In his first post-election speech at the Education Trust Conference, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said the nation must work to improve its college graduation rate.
"We know how far we have to go," Duncan said. "Our graduation rate is unacceptable. Our opportunity gap is unacceptable. Our achievement gap is unacceptable."
Today, the U.S. is in 12th place in terms of college achievement among industrialized nations, the College Board reports. In the U.S. 41.6% of 25- to 34-year-olds hold at least an associate's degree, compared to more than 55% in nations such as Korea, Canada, the Russian Federation and Japan.
In order to meet President Barack Obama's goals of increasing the nation's graduation rate to 60% within the next eight years, Duncan believes the U.S. needs to create a better model of student aid. At the October TIME Higher Education Summit, Duncan said state funding for full-time college students has fallen by 25%, while Pell Grants are facing an $8 billion shortfall in 2014. Given these circumstances, the U.S. "model of student institutional aid is unsustainable," Duncan said.
To begin addressing these problems, Duncan said states, colleges and individual schools must first simplify the financial aid process so students know exactly how much they will spend on their education. Additionally, he feels institutional grants and loans must be more performance- and outcomes-based.