LOUISVILLE, Kentucky — U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan's message for students thinking about college is simple: You can do it, and the federal government can help pay for it.
Duncan visited Louisville on Thursday as part of a back-to-school bus tour with stops in 10 cities. He told a group of prospective college students during a discussion at the University of Louisville that too many of them never fill out federal financial aid forms. They miss out on about $150 billion in grants and loans made available by the federal government every year, he said.
"If you work hard, you will be able to afford college, and we will meet you halfway," he said. Duncan told the students, "please, please, please fill out that form."
Duncan said he worries that many students with the grades to go to college believe that it will be too expensive.
Those skeptical students have a point: nationally, student debt is near $1.3 trillion dollars and the average price for in-state students at public four-year universities is 42 percent higher than it was a decade ago, according to the College Board.
"College is less affordable than we'd like it to be today, and it's a worry," Duncan said.
Brandon Burris, a University of Louisville student who joined a roundtable discussion, said the financial aid form, known as FAFSA, could be a little daunting to complete. Burris said he came from a low-income family, and was the first to go to college. But he said he had to do lots of research to figure out how to get help.
Burris recommended that high school seniors start researching college and funding now.
"I would have started a little earlier," he said.
Duncan also responded to a question about the arrest this week of a 14-year-old Texas student who brought a homemade clock to school. He said the arrest of Ahmed Mohamed, who is Muslim, appeared to be based on "stereotyping and fear run amok."
Police declined to seek any charges against the boy, but his detaining has ignited a wave of criticism and suspicion that police and school staff had overreacted because of his religion.
"When you have young men or young women, regardless of race or nationality or religion, who are tinkerers, who are thinkers, who are inventors, we have to do everything we can to support them," he said.