Education Secretary Arne Duncan says the U.S. education system is failing students, and it’s not because it is putting them in debt.
In a speech on Monday at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, Duncan said it is time for the Obama administration and lawmakers to move past discussions about the rising level of student debt, and shift the focus to student outcomes.
“The degree students truly can’t afford is the one they don’t complete, or that employers don’t value,” Duncan said according to prepared remarks.
It is more important to make sure students get a high quality education and complete their degree than to debate the cost it takes to get there, according to Duncan.
"Student debt is a burden for too many students, but most ultimately repay their loans, and for those who get their degree, college proves an excellent investment," he said.
Duncan said policymakers "must shift incentives at every level to focus on student success, not just access."
The idea of debt-free college has been heavily debated recently among education policymakers. In January, President Obama introduced a plan to provide students two tuition-free years of community college. Democratic presidential candidates Martin O’Malley and Bernie Sanders have each put forth their own debt-free college plans in recent months.
Duncan said these debt-free college plans are only part of the solution.
“If we confine the discussion to cost and debt, we will have failed,” he said. “Because we will have only found better ways to pay for a system that fails far too many of our students.”