Gregory Darnieder, senior adviser to U.S. Education Secretary


A senior adviser to U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan promoted a new federal initiative focused on improving college access this week during a visit to Temple University.

Gregory Darnieder said the work of preparing students for success in college or the workforce begins when they are elementary students.

He spoke on Friday about helping students develop the persistence and resilience needed to complete college degree or industry-recognized certificates. Using “post-secondary education” as a catch-all term no longer accurately describes the ongoing challenge within public education in preparing students for the multiple paths following high school graduation, Darnieder said.

Alex Davies, 21, a student ambassador who works in Temple University’s Office of Orientation, said students who take advantage of the tuition discount will acknowledge the value of the tuition break when they realize substantial savings.

“I think they’ll really value it when they get to their third or fourth year,” said the junior from Newtown, Bucks County.

James Williams, principal of Kensington Health Sciences Academy, brought about a dozen 9th-11th graders to Friday’s symposium at Mitten Hall.

“It’s a great opportunity to be outside of their normal element,” Williams said. “I think it’s important they understand that outside their world, there’s a broader piece. The more they’re part of that dialogue, part of that interaction, they’re going to benefit from that experience.”

Elliot Lizzimore, 16, of West Philadelphia, was among his charges. He said the Fly In 4 program would make him consider choosing Temple University over other higher education institutions.

Darnieder applauded Temple University for its new Fly In 4 program, which provides grants of $4,000 to qualifying freshman who agree to limit their number of hours spent working each week. It is aimed at helping students focus more on their studies, graduate in four years and minimize student debt.

Reynelle Staley, executive director of After School All-Stars, said, “I wanted to hear what was being talked about and see how we could fit in.”

The All-Stars program is part of a network that provides after-school programming, including high school readiness geared for middle school pupils, and college and career readiness for high school students, she said.

Darnieder recalled a conversation with the chief of Chicago’s public school system, where he had once worked.

“The only criteria I should be judged on is college completion,” he said. “Why do we exist as a K-12 system.”

Darnieder made his remarks before about 100 people gathered at Mitten Hall for a series of talks on the theme of college access and college completion. The symposium talked strategy about increasing collaboration between university, corporate and civic partners, and creating more paths for high school graduates, particularly minorities and students from low-income households.

It was his first visit to Temple University. He is an advocate for the U.S. Department of Education’s college access initiative, and a top aide to Duncan. He said preparing high school graduates for the workforce or college begins before kindergarten. Forging a system that works starts with believing that students can achieve. It also requires trusting relationship between groups, organizations and entities working collaboratively.

“Are we going to set up a system of support, realizing some kids are going to be [at] a disadvantage, in terms of the starting point,” he said.

In its first year, 83 percent of freshman students were allowed to enroll in the program.

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Wilford Shamlin III