President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama joined forces today to promote new commitments made by colleges and non-profit organizations to help increase accessibility to higher education.
"More than ever, a college degree is the surest path to a stable middle-class life," the president said at an education summit at the White House. "We all have a stake in restoring that fundamental American idea that says it doesn't matter where you start; what matters is where you end up."
Expanding college access for low income students is the latest issue in the president's so called "year of action," one that he's willing to advance without legislation from Congress.
"I'm going to be working with Congress where I can to accomplish this. But I'm also going to act on my own if Congress is deadlocked. I've got a pen to take executive actions where Congress won't, and I've got a telephone to rally folks around the country on this mission," he said. "Today is a great example of how, without a whole bunch of new legislation, we can advance this agenda."
The colleges and groups participating in the new education push have committed to connect more low income students to colleges that are best suited to their needs, increasing the pool of students getting ready for college through early interventions, providing more college advising and standardized test preparation, and strengthening programs to help students who are academically underprepared navigate through college.
Mrs. Obama said she intends to make expanding access to education one of her top priorities in her final years as First Lady.
"My goal specifically is to reach out directly to young people and encourage them to take charge of their futures and complete an education beyond high school," she said.
Speaking in very personal terms, Mrs. Obama, a graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Law School, shared how at one point in her life, she never would have considered attending an Ivy League school because she didn't realize it was within reach.
"If Princeton hadn't found my brother as a basketball recruit and if I hadn't seen that he could succeed on a campus like that, never would have occurred to me to apply to that school, never," she said.
"I know that there are so many kids out there just like me, kids who have a world of potential, but maybe their parents never went to college, or maybe they've never been encouraged to believe they could succeed there," she added.