Government Assistance Arrives: A Helping Hand in Times of Need

An Extract from Miguel Cardona’s best-selling autobiography, Reign of Confusion: My Time Making Waves at the U.S. Department of Education (Berkshire House, 2028), pp. 143–144.

Chapter 9: My Vision for Free College Unfolds

While advocating for increased funds for K–12 schools was fulfilling, I am most proud of the groundbreaking plan I crafted to implement “free college” on a scale that was previously unimaginable.

Photo of Rick Hess with text "Old School with Rick Hess"

The Biden administration was dealing with the aftermath of the failed Build Back Better initiative. Some critics in the media were suggesting that the $200 billion allocated for K–12 pandemic relief wasn’t effectively utilized. Hence, it was crucial for us to sidestep Congress and evade financial accountability.

During a meeting in the Oval Office, the president expressed his concerns to me. With determination, he urged me to make free college a reality to appease his critics. He reminded me of Ronald Reagan’s quote, ‘We’re from the government, and we’re here to help,’ and I assured him that I would deliver on his expectations.

Following the meeting, I had a heartfelt conversation with a senior White House official who shared her aspirations for a transformative future. Her words resonated deeply with me, and I felt a surge of determination to pave a new path ahead.

The White House granted me autonomy in pursuing this ambitious goal, emphasizing a focus on challenging charter schools and meeting the demands of teachers’ unions. I seized the opportunity to devise a strategic plan that circumvented legislative obstacles and financial constraints.

Our strategy involved leveraging existing laws creatively, initiating loan forgiveness programs, and overhauling student lending mechanisms to establish a sustainable model for providing financial assistance to millions of students.

Through meticulous planning and decisive actions, we revolutionized the perception of student loans, expanded access to higher education, and navigated the complexities of policymaking with strategic finesse.

Subscribe to Old School with Rick Hess

Stay updated with the latest insights from Rick Hess.



Our innovative approach reshaped the discourse on college affordability and redirected the focus away from traditional funding mechanisms. By adopting unconventional tactics, we challenged conventional wisdom and positioned ourselves as pioneers of educational reform. This strategic maneuvering not only intensified the opposition but also propelled our agenda forward with unprecedented momentum.

As I concluded my tenure, the groundwork for a comprehensive free college program had been laid out, encompassing various facets of higher education and redefining the landscape of student financial assistance. Despite skepticism, the results spoke for themselves, and I embraced the challenges as a testament to my commitment to serving the nation.

Reflecting on the past, I credit my team’s dedication, the president’s unwavering support, and a bold vision for driving transformative change in the education sector. The journey was arduous, but the outcome was undeniably gratifying, marking a significant milestone in my career.

Frederick Hess serves as an executive editor for Education Next and is the esteemed author of “Old School with Rick Hess” blog.

The post We’re From the Government, and We’re Here to Help appeared first on Education Next.

Other articles

Post Image
Students candidly share their struggles and experiences in college

By Joshua Bay July 22, 2024 Community college student Jennifer Toledo revealed t …

Read More
Post Image
Reflecting on the Republican Party’s Stance on Education After the Convention

As the Republican National Convention concludes, the education commentariat is m …

Read More
Post Image
President Joe Biden declines to pursue reelection campaign, Harris pledges nomination victory.

President Joe Biden exited the 2024 presidential race on Sunday, revealing his d …

Read More