Kristina Kim

In the United States today, a mere six out of every 10 white students who start college graduate within six years. Among Hispanic students, that number is five out of ten. And among black students, it falls to four.

Last night, the Yale School of Management’s Chief Executive Leadership Institute hosted former U.S. Secretary of Education John King Jr. LAW ’07 to discuss these and other educational issues facing the nation over dinner. King, who served in the administration of former President Barack Obama and now serves as CEO of the Education Trust, made it clear that his primary goal was not to speak himself, but rather to listen to students’ concerns.

“Whether it was as secretary or as state commissioner in New York, I always learned a ton from talking directly to students and hearing about their experience,” he told the News. “I’m particularly interested in hearing about challenges faced by students who are first-generation college students, students of color on campus and low income students … We have no future as a country if we fail to educate [these] students.”

Around 35 students from the SOM and Yale College attended the dinner, which was held at The Study at Yale. At the beginning of the evening, students introduced themselves to King and shared concerns they had about education. After that, King gave a brief talk centered on education policy.

One student brought up the lack of summer opportunities available to low-income students. Another said she felt underprepared when she first arrived at Yale and noted that students from college-preparatory “feeder” schools already knew a significant number of other undergraduates.

Adam Michalowski ’19, who attended the event, spoke to the achievement gap for low income students in rural communities.

“Low income students of color in rural areas have even fewer opportunities presented to them … than similar students might have in urban areas,” he said.

In fact, most the issues students brought up focused on empowering groups that have historically been underrepresented in higher education. During his remarks, King suggested that the leadership of President Donald Trump’s administration does not seem concerned with these issues.

Jeff Sonnenfeld, the president and CEO of the Chief Executive Leadership Institute and a professor at the SOM, introduced King at the event and praised his work and authentic approach to education policy.

“Secretary King is really interested in meeting with students,” Sonnenfeld said. “He started out as a school teacher, and what’s really great is this particular generation of higher education leaders actually show an interest in students, instead of being caught up in bureaucracy and administrative shuffles.”

While the students were speaking, King took detailed notes, which he plans to reference when he meets with university presidents, trustees and other top educational officials on Tuesday at the Yale Higher Education Leadership Summit. Many of the educators who came to campus for the summit were staying at the Study, and students had the opportunity to meet with them after the dinner with King.

The summit, which Yale hosts annually, deals with issues in higher education. This year’s theme is connecting college education to work opportunities and allowing students to see education both as a means and an end.

One student attendee, Colin Hill ’19, said he appreciated the opportunity to hear from King.

“I am really concerned about the state of education policy in our country right now,” he said. “I was eager to hear from someone who has a wide range of experience across education — practice, research and policy.”

King served as secretary of education from Jan. 1, 2016 through Jan. 20, 2017.

Niki Anderson | niki.anderson@yale.edu