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White House Pushes Education Reform

The first lady has always maintained that she came from the same place that the students she often addresses are from, a lower-income family and the daughter of a pump worker at the City of Chicago Waterworks.

Elizabeth Hoyt

November 12, 2013

White House Pushes Education Reform
This week, Michelle Obama shifted her focus from health to higher education. The first lady urged high-achieving students from lower income families to aim for college. This relates personally to Mrs. Obama, as she went from Chicago’s South Side to Princeton University and Harvard University. The first lady has always maintained that she came from the same place that the students she often addresses are from, a lower-income family and the daughter of a pump worker at the City of Chicago Waterworks. She and her brother both attended Princeton University.

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College, Mrs. Obama says, was the absolute key to both she and her brother’s current success in life. “I’m here today because I want you to know that my story can be your story,” said Mrs. Obama, as report by the New York Times. “The details might be a little different, but so many of the challenges and triumphs will be just the same.”

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The first lady’s new focus on higher education likely signals a greater White House focus on college access for all students, especially with the president’s recent national campaign launch, which began in August, of a college affordability program. “You have got to do whatever it takes to continue your education after high school – whether that’s going to a community college, or getting a technical certificate, or completing a training opportunity, or heading off to a four-year college,” said Mrs. Obama. This notes a shift to policy for Mrs. Obama, who previously focused on exercise and nutrition for the past five years.

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The new project will allow the first lady to work more closely with the Department of Education to further the president’s initiative, which aims to take the United States from 12th to first place in the world, in terms of the number of college graduates, by the year 2020. The New York Times reported Mrs. Obama’s words, “when the year 2020 rolls around, nearly two-thirds of all jobs in this country are going to require some form of training beyond high school.” Mrs. Obama’s office also reported that focusing on the country’s young people is important to her and she will likely be more focused on youths than policy. She plans to visit schools throughout the country as well as utilize social media to reach out to students in order to spread the message that higher education is the key to future opportunities. Additionally, the assistant to the president on economic policy, Gene Sperling, met with six university presidents the very same day of Mrs. Obama’s educational reform launch to discuss student access to colleges nationwide. Based on reports from the educators who met with Mr. Sperling, further discussions will continue in the near future. The Department of Education is also holding public hearing throughout the country to welcome suggestions and input on a plan for higher education accessibility to the nation’s students. Currently, the nation’s students that come from lower income families attend college 30 percent less than their higher-income counterparts, according to the National Center for Education Statistics – a statistic both the president and the first lady aim to improve by 2020.

What types of changes would you suggest take place in order to improve access to higher education?

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