Washington, DC - Friday, First Lady Michelle Obama hosted 50 school counselors at the White House for the 2017 Counselor of the Year Ceremony. Recognizing the efforts of school counselors is one of many ways in which the First Lady has worked to change the national conversation and make sure students have the guidance they deserve. Through her Reach Higher initiative and Better Make Room campaign, Mrs. Obama has teamed up with actors, singers, and sports icons to celebrate students and share tools and resources, such as the FAFSA, College Scorecard, and Up Next, with students.
America built a strong middle class over the past several generations through a commitment to keeping a high-quality education within reach of all who are willing to work for it. In keeping this promise alive, President Obama has made the largest investment in student aid since the G.I. Bill, and implemented reforms to ensure every student can earn a good-value college degree or credential. Today, many historically underserved students are enrolling in college for the first time; more students are graduating from college than ever; and new student loan defaults, delinquencies, and forbearances are on the decline. We can continue building on the progress, which includes:
Breaking Records on High School Graduation Rates: The high school graduation rate has risen steadily over President Obama’s time in office, growing by about four percentage points since the 2010-2011 school year – the first year all states used a consistent, four-year adjusted measure of high school completion. This increase reflects important progress schools across the country are making to better prepare students for college and careers after graduation. In October 2016, President Obama announced that America’s high school graduation rate reached a record new high of 83.2 percent.
Redesigning America’s High Schools: To engage, prepare, and inspire college and career-ready students, and align high school learning to the experiences and opportunities that matter in young people’s lives President Obama laid out a new vision for America’s high schools in his 2013 State of the Union address, proposing funding to scale-up innovative high school models and partnerships with colleges and employers so that all students graduate better equipped for the demands of the innovation economy. To build on this work the White House has hosted two annual summits on Next Generation High Schools in 2015 and 2016, announcing $375 million in private and public sector commitments and commitments from states and school districts estimated to impact more than 600,000 students to advance Next Generation High Schools.
Making It Easier to Access the Historic Investments in Financial Aid: President Obama has doubled investments in financial aid, increasing the maximum Pell Grant by over $1,000 and establishing the American Opportunity Tax Credit to provide up to $10,000 in tax credits to support higher education over four years. More than two million additional students have received college assistance each year through the Pell Grant over the course of the Obama Administration. A recent report by the President’s Council of Economic Advisers suggests that the Obama Administration’s increase in the average Pell Award between 2008-2009 and 2014-2015 will lead to an additional $20 billion in aggregate earnings, a nearly 2:1 return on the investment. , the White House and U.S. Department of Education are launching this year’s Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)—available October 1st for the first time, three months earlier than the traditional January 1st date—so that more students can access the historic investment in financial aid and better information when they need it. In the first month alone, the number of FAFSAs completed outpaced the previous years’ by over 10 percent, and has increased for Pell-eligible and first-generation students.
Promoting College Success: The College Scorecard—which was announced by the President in 2015—provides the clearest, most comprehensive national data on cost, graduation rates, debt, and post-college earnings. Organizations—like Google, College Board, and the Common Application—are building the College Scorecard tool and data into their products in order to ensure that students and families have the best information available at critical decision-making-periods. The College Scorecard data on college costs, graduation rates, and earnings will be clearly featured in the hundreds of millions of Google searches related to colleges and universities taking place in the U.S. each year. Together with the earlier availability of the FAFSA, the College Scorecard ensures that students and families have the best information available to choose a good-value school. Because students and families can learn about their financial aid eligibility within a few days of completing the FAFSA, they will have better information to compare costs and student outcomes available on the Scorecard when they are searching for and applying to schools. Next year, the FAFSA will direct students to the College Scorecard, so that students will have immediate access to the information they need to make their most consequential investment to date—by weighing their personalized financial aid estimates against a school’s student outcomes, comparing schools, and considering the full scope of their college options.
Making Community College Free for Hard-working Students: During his 2015 State of the Union, President Obama unveiled America’s College Promise (ACP), a plan that creates and strengthens partnerships to make two years of community college free for responsible students, letting students earn the first half of a college degree and skills needed in the workforce at no cost. The President’s proposal would also support four-year Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Minority-Serving Institutions in providing students with up to two years of college at zero or significantly reduced tuition. If all states participate, an estimated nine million students could benefit. A full-time community college student could save an average of $3,800 in tuition per year. Over 100 new free community college programs have been established in states, cities, systems, and schools across the country since the President announced ACP in his 2015 State of the Union. Altogether, they are raising and investing $338 million in new dollars to serve 210,000 students. The number of free community college programs across the country is expected to grow, with $100 million for America’s Promise Grants, the tuition-free dual enrollment pilot for 10,000 students, and resources like the America’s College Promise Playbook.
Making Progress on Commitments to Share Information about FAFSA and the College Scorecard: Using platforms like the Up Next texting tool, students can access step-by-step advice and personalized support on completing the FAFSA, explore the College Scorecard, and complete their college entrance exams. In response to the Administration’s call to action, numerous organizations have made commitments to ensure more students are connected to information about college preparation. Recent progress on these commitments includes:
- Increased Outreach to Underserved High Schools: The Coalition for Access, Affordability, and Success member colleges and universities completed 554 high school visits to 270 high schools where students are most likely to benefit from college information and resources this fall – with Texas A&M University leading the way with 63 school visits. In preparation for visiting these and other under-resourced schools with high populations of lower income students, several colleges collaborated to create a series of communications to connect students with Up Next mobile text messaging campaign and introducing students to the FAFSA toolkit and College Scorecard. Member institutions also encouraged students to make use of free tools available as part of the Coalition platform, including college entrance exam preparation and other college search tools.
- Sharing Best Practices Across the Country. Partnering with school counselors and education leaders in 42 states including the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico, in just over two years Reach Higher’s growing coalition of school counselors has organized five national school counseling convenings, 2 regional convenings and 2 statewide convenings bringing education stakeholders from across the country together to discuss and share promising practices and strategies to help guide our nation’s students to reach their fullest potential. These states have responded to the First Lady’s call to action and have made a pledge to continue in this effort beyond the administration through the commitments they have made to increase postsecondary access and success outcomes. More on Reach Higher’s work with school counselors can be found in Reach Higher’s Progress Report.
- Signing Day Bonuses. DonorsChoose.org, a crowdfunding nonprofit that's helped public school teachers raise $500 million for classroom projects, and the College Football Playoff Foundation, a nonprofit committed to supporting education across the country, are continuing to organize this spring’s 1,000 College Signing Day events, started by Reach Higher and Better Make Room. When counselors at public schools’ nationwide register to host a College Signing Day at their high school campus, they will receive $500 in DonorsChoose.org funding credits, backed by the College Football Playoff Foundation, to help fund classroom resources for their event. These $500 "signing bonuses" will help ensure counselors have the materials they need to launch successful College Signing Day events.