President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama at a White House summit Thursday will announce commitments from dozens of institutions of higher learning to expand college access for low-income Americans.
The push by the president is his latest attempt to put the spotlight on income inequality, an issue that Obama says will serve as the centerpiece of his State of the Union address later this month — and the rest of his second term.
“We do not have a more clear ladder of economic mobility than the obtainment of a college degree for someone born into a low-income family,” said Gene Sperling, Obama’s top economic adviser, previewing the White House event.
“We have to do much more as a country,” Sperling added about giving younger people a greater chance for success.
Sperling said that the colleges and universities attending the White House gathering made a commitment to increase access for prospective students from low-income families.
Education leaders from some of the nation’s most prominent universities agreed to do more to enroll low-income students and ensure they graduate. Among the measures being taken are an increase in advising and test preparation, early interventions for middle-school students and remediation for those struggling once they get to college.
The roster of participating schools includes Brown University, Columbia University, Georgetown University, Georgia Tech, Louisiana State University, Morehouse College, North Carolina State University, Princeton University, the University of California System, University of Chicago, University of Pennsylvania, University of Virginia and Yale University.
Some of the schools are making multimillion-dollar investments.
The College Board will also announce that every income-eligible student who takes the SAT will receive four fee waivers to apply to its member institutions for free.
The ultimate goal, administration officials said, is that young people don’t settle on an inferior schooling choice — or even worse, none at all.
“The more selective school you go to, the greater the chance for success,” Sperling explained.
With much of his education agenda stalled on Capitol Hill, Obama has promised to either take executive actions or build grassroots support outside of Washington for his goals.
Republicans have also focused increasingly on how to better educate low-income Americans. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., has pushed for more school voucher programs.
However, the Obama administration, in particular Attorney General Eric Holder, is fighting those efforts. Holder recently tried to limit a voucher law in Louisiana, raising concerns about how it would affect the racial makeup of some schools.
The White House was unable to quantify exactly how many students would benefit from this latest outreach effort. But Sperling predicted that “well over 100,000 youth” would receive help.