Ag education was the focus of a town hall meeting led by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. The crowd of more than 300 high school and university students as well as agricultural and business officials filled the Agriculture Education Pavilion at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville Pioneer Farm on April 18.
The town hall was part of a series of conversations hosted by the federal government to engage students and community leaders across the country in building awareness around the importance of shared responsibility and driving down college costs.
Following brief opening remarks, UW-Platteville Chancellor Dennis Shields opened up the floor to audience questions.
The questions from attentive audience members included topics such as renewable energy, the Farm, Food and Jobs bill, exports, the FFA and education funding, among others.
"We have a shared responsibility," said Duncan when asked how students can continue to afford the rising costs of education. "Education has to be accessible to everyone."
Duncan explained that if Congress doesn't act by the end of June, percentage rates on federal education loans will rise from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent.
"We have to educate our way to a better economy," said Duncan. "The answer to our national challenges is not a higher drop out rate. It is not demonizing teachers. It is not reducing graduation rates and reducing college access. The answer to our nation is great early childhood education, great K-12 education, attracting and retaining great teachers, making sure every single young person is college and career ready. We all need to work together behind that."
Another attendee asked about the state of education in Wisconsin and the turmoil between Governor Scott Walker and the teachers in the state. "As a country, we've beaten down educators for too long," said Duncan, adding that teachers should be paid over $100,000. "In South Korea, teachers are nation builders."
Duncan noted that in the next four to six years the United States will need one million new teachers.
The federal government under invests when it comes to professional development in the educational field, according to Duncan.
Many of the students in attendance were members of the National FFA Organization (Future Farmers of America). Vilsack and Duncan applauded the students involved with FFA and agriculture in general. "For those of you involved and interested in agriculture, be proud," said Vilsack.
Following the event, Vilsack and Duncan signed an agreement aimed to boost collaboration between the two federal departments when it comes to promoting agricultural education and sharing best practices.
The town hall meeting concluded after about an hour. Vilsack and Duncan posed for photos and spoke with individual attendees after the formal portion of the meeting.
"What I enjoyed most was the opportunity to talk with the students, both before and during this town hall meeting," said Vilsack. "These young people, particularly the FFA and the farm kids, I want them to understand and appreciate, and I think they do, what a tremendous opportunity we have in agriculture. It is an underappreciated and undervalued aspect of our economy. I think more people are beginning to realize that agriculture is the key to our security. It's the key to job growth in rural America. It's the key to the energy future and it's frankly, the key to our manufacturing future."