Campus & Community

DU students lend voices to national education initiative

One of the highest ranking federal officials in education came to the University of Denver campus March 7 to sit with students, not to speak, but to listen.

Sara Martinez Tucker, the Bush Administration’s under secretary of education, says before she leaves office next year, she wants to initiate something positive and enduring — a way of connecting with American students that opens the path to college, especially for first-generation college applicants.

Success, she says, is crucial. Without opening the door to education for more students, America will suffer as the current Baby Boomer generation retires.

As she considers a variety of outreach efforts, including an overhauled one-stop clearing house for information online, Tucker is touring the country, talking with high school and college students in intimate settings.

This month’s visit had her meeting with 13 DU students for more than two hours. Assistant Provost for Academic Programs Jennifer Karas says the students were selected for their diverse interests and their involvement in education.

Tucker says she is taking their suggestions and stories with her as her team gets to work.

“My hope would be that I am connecting with enough American students that their voices will be heard in Washington,” she says. “I’m going to ask you to help me build a Web site. If we don’t get it right on the first shot, people are not going to come back.”

Students explained how obstacles to higher education affected them. Those from schools with higher numbers of minorities say even well-meaning counselors have internal, unintended biases, such as low expectations that close the door to college for some. Others face financial pressures or lack a family support group. Even if parents want their children to go to college, if they never went they may not know what steps to take.

And students from schools with a record of high academic achievement face internal biases, the students say, with some pushed to a four-year college when a technical or community college would have suited them better.

Junior accounting and psychology major Melissa Gomez says she had to overcome peer and community bias when she considered college.

“People would tell me you have to be either really smart or rich to go to college,” she says. “I had to convince myself that even though I was sort of stuck in the middle — I wasn’t smart and I wasn’t rich — that I could still go to college.”

Tucker says creating a simplified, informative Web site is a first step. Students told her it should help students and parents learn what they need to do to find the right school, the pathways to admission and the keys to financial aid. Navigating current government forms for financial aid is a chore, Tucker acknowledges.

Tucker says that while she has been on the road for months listening, she heard two new ideas from DU students that she had never before considered. Adding a place on the new Web site that helps high school students talk about college with their parents, like how the Army helps students talk to parents about the military, could be a valuable addition, she says. And, she says the students’ suggestion of a national day for high school students to visit colleges could be useful.

As she gets to work, Tucker has started a blog to keep the discussion open, and she encourages students to read it and to leave comments.

“Keep me real, go to the site and leave your thoughts,” she says. “What would you do if you were me? How would you do my job?”

Under Secretary of Education Sara Martinez Tucker’s blog is at Tucker says she hopes to have the new federal site,, up and running by May.

Comments are closed.