In a farewell address at Northeastern University Thursday, Ted Mitchell, the under secretary of education, said that a "yawning wealth divide" between minority students and white peers makes expanding access to higher education more important than ever.
He also called on higher education institutions to recognize and address the different circumstances and concerns of the changing college-going population.
"In 2017, our college hopefuls represent a variety of different backgrounds, different needs, different experiences, different circumstances and different contexts," Mitchell said. "Too many colleges and operate as if all of their students fit the old stereotype."
Mitchell also said higher education policy makers have shifted from a focus on "inputs" like enrollment and spending to outcomes like completion rates, which he said remain unacceptably low. But he called on lawmakers at all levels to provide renewed support to higher education, warning against further disinvestment, like the state of Arizona's unprecedented decision to zero out funding for two of its largest community college systems.
Although political appointees like Mitchell are moving on from the Department of Education after Jan. 20, the under secretary said the department's career professionals will continue to pursue many of those goals. The experimental-sites initiative launched by the department -- including programs like Second Chance Pell -- should be on firm footing for the next three years, despite the change in administrations, he said.
"I feel very good about the core strength of the Education Department and its career team," he said.
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