Politics & Government

Obama hosts summit that yields new plans for greater college opportunity

President Barack Obama on Thursday, speaking at an event about college opportunity, acknowledged the frustrations of many Americans over their own prospects for education and a good job.

“When I travel overseas, people look at us with envy and are puzzled as to why there seems to be so much anxiety and frustration inside America,” he said. “And my response is that when it comes to our economy, yes, our economy is growing, but we find an increasing divergence between those who have the skills that today’s jobs require and those who don’t.”

Speaking to a White House sponsored gathering of some 600 college, school district, foundation and business leaders over how to increase college opportunity, Obama also spoke about middle class frustrations over college costs.

“When it comes to the cost of college, there’s a frustration in a middle class that feels like folks at the top can afford it, folks at the bottom get help. There’s nobody who’s looking out for folks in the middle,” he said. “And given accelerating costs and the recognition that this is going to be the key ticket to the middle class, that elicits great frustration.”

The White House College Opportunity Summit at the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington drew together leaders who made more than 600 commitments to help American students get into college, succeed there and graduate.

“I want to make sure we lead the world in education once again, not just because it’s right to help more young people chase their dreams, but because it’s critical to our economic future,” Obama said.

He said that he and first lady Michelle Obama, who also spoke to the group, “want to make sure that every child gets the kind of support that Malia and Sasha get.”

Obama announced a few new executive actions on college opportunity: grants for research on how to improve college completion, and an increased number in AmeriCorps service jobs aimed at helping low-income students get to college.

The college summit followed an earlier one organized by the White House in January. This time there were more participants and an expanded agenda, including more emphasis on collaboration between school districts and colleges.

The new commitments on college opportunity from the participants at the meeting were in four areas: college completion, college readiness, school counseling and increased graduates in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math).

Among them was one from the Jack Kent Cook Foundation to develop a free website that would help mainly low-income students who were the first in their families to go to college. The website would use chatbot technology and personalized texting to help students get some of their basic questions about how to apply for college and pay for it.

The foundation also pledged to increase its full scholarships for high-achieving, low-income students from 355 in 2013 to 525 per year in 2017.

One of the foundation’s scholarship recipients, Chionque Mines, introduced Obama at the summit. She said she’d been raised in Philadelphia by her grandmother. The foundation’s support made it possible for her to attend Goucher College, a private liberal arts college in Baltimore.

“Today I’m here to say that after all the tears, stress and doubt that college is worth it,” she said.

Other commitments included on by Duke University and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute to set up a variety of teaching methods that can help minority students complete more STEM degrees.

Cornell University, along the same lines, pledged to develop physics and biology courses that use “high-impact teaching and learning methods” in order to help “increase performance and retention among low-income and underrepresented students.”

See all the new college opportunity commitments here from colleges and universities, school districts and organizations nationwide.

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