JEANNIE MAI: Hey everybody, it's the ladies of The Real here with an internet exclusive. We're sitting here with the Secretary of Education, Mr. John King!
MAI: Okay, so first off Mr. King, kick us off and tell us a little bit about yourself. Did you go to college; where did you grow up?
KING: Sure. So I grew up in Brooklyn—went to New York City public schools. And because of the difference teachers made in my life, I had the chance to go on to college, went to Harvard and then had a doctorate in education and a law degree. And I loved school —which should make sense given my job.
TAMAR BRAXTON: So you did start your career off as an educator and now here you are as President Obama's serving as the top education official. Now, I mean, this is amazing in my opinion, what made you want to be an educator to begin with.
KING: Really was that the difference that teachers made in my life. Both my parents were teachers but they passed away when I was a kid. So my mom passed away when I was 8 in October in my 4th grade year and I lived with my dad who was quite sick. He had undiagnosed Alzheimer's and he passed away when I was 12. So that period—living with my dad, just the two of us—home was this very unpredictable and scary place. But school was amazing! School was this place where we did productions of Shakespeare and elementary school where there was stability and structure and things were interesting and that I was excited about. And in school I could be a kid even though outside of school I really couldn't. And so later—you know, after I got to college—I started doing work with students. I volunteered work and I loved it. And so I decided to become a teacher so I could try to do for other kids what teachers had done for me.
TAMARA MOWRY-HOUSLEY: That's amazing. Well speaking of teaching, we don't see a lot of male teachers today, especially men of color. Why do you think that is and what do you have to say about that?
KING: It's a huge challenge. And now we have a majority of the students in our public schools are students of color, but less than 20% of our teachers are teachers of color; only about 2% of our teachers are African-American men. So these are huge challenges. There's a lot of work that states and districts can do to make teaching a more attractive field: we have to make sure that folks are paid well, we have to make sure the working conditions are good. We're gonna make sure that teachers feel supported and respected in our society. So there's work to do to make it more attractive. We've also gotta make sure that it's financially accessible. That students know that they can get student aid, that they can get loan forgiveness if they pursue a career in education. So we're working with states to implement plans to try and increase the effectiveness of our teachers across the country and the diversity of our teachers across the country.
LONI LOVE: Now, Secretary King, let's just get to the nitty-gritty. Why college? Because we see a lot of people—we see youtubers that are millionaires, we see tech folks that are millionaires without having a degree—why should we go and get a degree?
KING: Well it's, you know, there are those amazing stories, right? Of folks who are able to be successful—to be financially successful—without college but it's like playing the lottery. The odds are not in your favor if that's your strategy. And in fact, one of the best strategies that you can have is to continue your education after high school. We know that three-quarters of new jobs require some level of post-secondary training—that might be a 2-year degree, it might be a 4-year degree, it might be a workplace credential—but you need more than just a high school diploma. And so we gotta make sure students know that and that they know that there's financial aid out there that they can get to support them.
ADRIENNE BAILON: That is awesome. Well now when you decided 'okay, yes I wanna go to college,' the next step is choosing which college to go to. So with so many colleges to choose from, what resources can students and families use to help decide what they should apply for?
KING: Well, research is really important because you wanna know what the options are and you wanna think about what kind of experience you want: do you want an urban school, do you want a rural school, do you want a school where you're gonna focus on engineering, do you want a school where you're gonna focus on theater—
MAI: Lots of options!
KING: Yeah, there lots of options. We've got a website, collegescorecard.ed.gov. Collegescorecard.ed.gov, where you can get information about graduation rates, the average earnings of folks who graduated from the school, how well folks who've gone to that school are able to take care of their student debt afterwards, so that's one source of information. But then you also wanna look at the college website. You wanna find out what programs they offer, what experiences you might have there. And then you wanna talk to folks. Talk to folks who you know may have gone to those schools. Talk to your high school counselor. So that research process is really important for students.
MAI: Definitely. Okay so the First Lady spoke earlier about the FAFSA, which is the Federal Aid Stu—no, it's the, hold on, hold on! Free Application for Federal Aid... Federal Student Aid! No, don't! I got this. Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Boom! So when it's that hard to say and know what it's about, why should students actually fill out this form?
KING: It's incredibly important. There's over a 150 billion dollars in federal aid for going to school—
MAI: How much?
KING: Over 150 billion dollars.
MAI: 150 billion, that's with a B! Money waiting to be taken to go to school.
KING: Exactly. And we know that over 2 million students every year leave aid on the table because they didn't fill out the FAFSA. So we want students to go to FAFSA.gov to fill out the FAFSA. We try to make it shorter and easier to do. We've also tried to make it so you can download information from your tax returns—your parent's tax returns—to make it even easier. So FAFSA.gov gives you access to not only federal aid but FAFSA is also used by states and universities to decide how much aid a student will get. So it's really the entry point to getting financial aid for school.
MAI: Very cool.
BRAXTON: I just want you to clear something up because everybody feels like it's hard to fill out this form. Can you tell the people the process?
KING: So the best thing to do is for them to go to studentaid.gov where they can get information about the process. You wanna make sure you have all your materials ready that you'll need to fill out the form like tax returns. And then, if you have all your materials ready, it can take as little as half an hour to complete the form.
MAI: Wow that is not long.
KING: There's more work to do to keep making it shorter. We wanna make it easier for folks, but it is so important because it can translate into money that will make college possible.
BRAXTON: It is not that hard!
BAILON: For thirty minutes of your life? Nods
MOWRY-HOUSLEY: Well one thing we do know is that college is really expensive and even if someone does fill out the FAFSA form—I mean, it's expensive—so what types of financial aid can students receive by just filling out the form and—you know, because we hear a lot about loans in the news— are loans the only option?
KING: Well there's a lot of options. You know, there's Pell grants which are federal aid for students who are low-income students. There are subsidized federal loans, where the government essentially pays the interest while you are in school. There's private loans that you can take out. There's scholarships you can get from your university. There's financial aid from the states; some states give direct grants. Some states also have scholarship programs focused on a particular area if you wanna become a teacher, or doctor, be some form of public service. There's loan forgiveness. We've also got a program so that you only have to pay—on your direct loans from the government—you only have to pay a maximum of 10% of your income so that we help people manage their debt. But the key thing is, you know, it can be costly. But you wanna make sure you're making a smart investment—it's the right school, a good match for the things you're interested in—and then the investment really pays for itself over time once you get the degree, if you finish.
MOWRY-HOUSLEY: That's a very good point.
KING: Yeah we worry that sometimes folks start but don't finish. And many of the people who aren't able to pay back their loans—that's really what's happened to them. They started. They left school. Now they don't have the degree. They can't get the job so they can't pay back their loans.
MAI: Got it.
BAILON: Well, my question is, who can fill out the FAFSA form? Is it for anybody? Or do you have to be younger? Or can someone like myself who's taken some time off obviously to work—but if you have a dream of going to college, can you still fill out the FAFSA form at an older age?
KING: Absolutely. It's for everybody. So—
LOVE: Wait a minute, so you saying my cousin Skillet—
LOVE: He has to use his government name, but he can fill out the form?
KING: Yes. He can fill out the form and be able to get aid for college.
BAILON: Wow, that is awesome!
LOVE: Awesome. Well thank you so much
MAI: Thank you so much.
LOVE: Thank you so much Secretary King, we appreciate your time.
BAILON: This has been so informative. So informative and definitely we can get out there again what the website is. I'm sure we'll have it up on our site but that's pretty much where they can get all this information from.
KING: Yes. Studentaid.gov and FAFSA.gov. That's the place to start.
GROUP: Thank you so much!