President Obama, First Lady Push Low-Cost Education

U.S. president joins Michelle Obama in encouraging youth to take advantage of community colleges, trade schools.
3:00 | 01/15/14

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Transcript for President Obama, First Lady Push Low-Cost Education
This is a special room. I'm down Cutler New York -- this ABC news digital special report the focus of the White House today. Expanding college opportunity both the president and the First Lady are making education the number one priority today speaking to more than a hundred colleges. And forty private organizations the first family wants more low income students. To be able to go to college new data from pew research -- shows that currently. -- 51% of low income students attend college and that number. -- actually fallen since President Obama took office. White House says it was the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by 20/20 ambitious goal which is. Getting increasingly more difficult to do. With shrinking financial aid. The Obama administration says that economic mobility greatly increases when people have college degrees and the First Lady. Outlined yesterday at the responsibility lies not only with the educators but with the students as well. -- Sanity and struggles can. -- -- And you know -- Because. They are constantly alerts feel bad. Minneapolis. Will never. In that need need she immediately. You can't always keep it. It's. -- she -- so. -- -- you knew all of this. Back yeah. And surely you didn't. This morning. And give it class. -- -- They -- -- I want they have grievances yeah. -- directly to -- -- anything to me this -- Tell them that they had. Eat this city. Already. It's always. They -- -- admitted. To being buried us. The First Lady making -- PO yesterday -- Obama is hoping to encourage procedures schools like Harvard and Yale. To work with nonprofits and private institutions to let in more low income students maybe even use the model historically black colleges where upwards. -- 90% of students are on some type of financial aid. The obamas will be taking to the podium and just about but first we see their Troy -- He is in college now on a Fulbright scholarship he couldn't read into the age of fourteen but now. In the college system and obviously recipients dedication and hard work and quite an honor today introducing the Obama's let's listen. So much. It is really great to be here they would you we have with us today college and universities presidents we have. Experts and advocates and civic and business leaders and I want to thank all of you for taking the time -- be here today. And for working everyday to help young people pursue their education and bill. Brighter futures for themselves and for our country. And I'd also like tested. Give a really -- can't. -- -- That's pretty powerful stuff and present it so eloquently and -- yesterday and naturally he was an earth. I don't really know why. -- -- -- So. -- story reminds us all and limitless capacity. That lies within all of our young people no matter where they come from or how much money they have. -- is an example of why we all should it cared deeply about this issue. And Choi and millions of others like him -- Y I Q so much about this issue and why in the coming years are going to be spending more and more my time. Focusing on education. Because as everyone here knows education is the key. To success for so many kids. And Michael specifically. Used to reach out directly to young people. And encourage them to take charge of their futures and complete an education be earned. High school. And I'm doing this because -- so often when we talk about education. We talk about our young people and what we need to do for them. And we talk about the programs we need to create for them about the resource is that we need to devote to them. But we must remember that education is -- two -- bargain. And while there is so much more we must do for our kids. At the end of the day. As Choi described this person who has the most -- over whether or not -- student succeeds. Is this student him or herself. Ultimately they are the ones sitting in that classroom they're the ones who have to set goals for themselves and work hard to achieve those goals every single day. So my hope is that with this new effort that instead of talking about our kids. We talked with -- kids. -- I wanna hear what's going on in their lives of -- to inspire them to step up and commit to their education so they can have opportunities they never even dream. I'm doing this because that story of opportunity through education. Is the story of my life. And I want them to know that it can be their story to. But only. Only if they devote themselves. To continuing their education. Past high school. It for many students that might mean attending. College or university like the ones many of you represented. For others it might mean choosing a community college it might mean pursuing short term professional -- But no matter what they do I want to make sure that students believed that they have what it takes to succeed beyond high school. That's going to be my message to young people. But here's the thing I note that that message alone. Isn't enough. Like I said this is a two -- -- that means. We all have to step up because make no mistake about it these kids are Smart. They will notice if we're not holding up our into the bargain. They will notice if we tell them about applying for college or financially but that no one's there. To help -- choose the right school or. Fill out the right forms. They will notice if we tell them that their good enough to graduate from college but didn't know college ask them to o'clock. No college invites them to visit their campus. And so we got to recommit ourselves to helping these kids pursue their education. As you discussed and you -- first panel today one the first steps. Is getting more underserved young people -- on to college campuses. The fact is that right now we are missing out on so much potential because. So many promising young people young people like Choi who have the talent it takes to succeed. Simply don't believe that college can be a reality for them. Too many of them are falling through the crash -- and all of you know that all too well. And that's why so many of you already finding new ways to reach out to the underserved students in your communities. -- helping them navigate the financially. And college admissions process in -- helping them find schools. That match their abilities and interests. And I know from my own experience just how important all of that work. Is that you're doing. To the truth is that if Princeton -- Found my brother as a basketball recruit. And if I hadn't seen that he could succeed on a campus like that. Never -- occurred to me to -- that school never. And I know that there are so many kids out there just like me. Kids who have a world of potential -- May be their parents never went to college. Maybe they've never been encouraged to believe. They could -- succeed and and so that means it's our job to find those kits. It's our job to help them understand their potential ending get them enrolled in -- college that can help them meet their needs. But and we all know that just getting into school is only half the story because once students are there they have got to gradually. And that's not always easily easy especially. Given what many of these kids are dealing with when they get to campus. I had just just think about it you just heard a snippet from -- just. Just to make it -- -- these kids have already overcome so much. Neighborhoods riddled with crime and drugs moms and dads who weren't around to many nights when they had go to -- hunger. But as I tell these kids when I talked to them we can't think about those experiences. That they had his weaknesses. Just the opposite. There actually strengths. It's facing and overcoming these challenges these kids have developed skills like grit and resilience that many of their peers will never. Be able to compete with never. When they get out in the world. Those are the exact skills they will need to succeed and they will succeed. But imagine how hard it is to realize that. When you first get the couch. -- a whole new world. You might have trouble making friends because you don't scene peers who come from a background like George you might be. Worried about paying for classes and food and room and board because you have never had to set your own budget before. You might be feeling guilty when you call home because mom and debt. Are wondering why you didn't get a job so you could help support their -- Those are the kinds of obstacles these kids are facing right from day one. But let's be clear all of that isn't just a challenge for them. Is a challenge for folks like us who are committed to helping them succeed. And make no mistake about it that is our mission. Not simply. Giving speeches are raising money -- hosting conferences but to take real. Meaningful action that will help our young people get in -- college and more importantly actually get their degree. And here's the good news. Time and again you all have shown that you have the experience the passion. And that re sources to helping young people thrive. For example in recent decades you realize that students from across the socioeconomic spectrum. Have been coming to campus would -- more issues like eating disorders and learning disabilities emotional challenges like depression and anxiety. And so much more and luckily. You all have not shied away from these issues I've seen I worked at the university. And you haven't said these are problems. -- university hospital counseling center -- you you've stepped up. And while there's still work left to do on these issues are you working everyday to support these kids -- treatment programs of outreach initiatives in. And support groups because you know that these issues have a huge impact. On whether students can learn it succeed at your school. So now. As you begin to see more and more underserved students on your campuses. We need you to prepare -- direct that same energy and determination. Toward helping these kids face and they -- unique challenges. Now fortunately you you've already got the expertise she need to address these these issues. And simply by building on what you're already doing best you could make real. Differences for these -- That's what so many of you are doing with commitments he made here at this summit. For example. Every school offers financial -- services. -- -- what the university of Minnesota is doing they're committing to expand those services to include. Financial literacy programs to help students and their families. Manage the cost of college. At every school had advisors who desperately want their students to succeed. Organ tech is committing to set up a text message program so that. These advisors can connect more easily with students who need some extra encouragement or academic support. And every college -- orientation programs here learning communities to help students transition to college. And many of the schools here today are supplementing. Those programs. By partnering with organizations like the posse foundation. So that underserved students can connect and build a social network before they even step foot on campus. And those were the types of resources that -- -- kid like me. Not just survive but thrive at a school like Princeton. When I first arrived at school as a first generation college student I didn't know anyone on campus except -- -- I didn't know how to pick the right classes -- find the right buildings. I didn't even bring the right side sheets for my dorm bid. I realize those kids were so long so. I was a little overwhelmed and a little isolated. But -- I had an opportunity to participate in a three week on campus orientation program that helped me get a feel for the rhythm of college life. And once school started I discovered the campus cultural center the Third -- center. Where -- found students and staff who came from families in communities that were similar to my -- And they understood what I was going through. They were there to listen when I was feeling frustrated they where there to answer the questions I was too embarrassed to ask anyone else. And -- it worked for those resources -- the friends in the mentors I honestly don't know how I would've made it through college. But instead I graduated at the top of my class -- went to law school. And you know the rest. So whether. It's aligning. With an organization like posse for offering -- -- it. Biting mentoring program are creating -- central space where students can connect with one another. You all can take simple steps that can determine whether these kids give up and drop out. Or step up and -- And that's not just good for these young people it's good for your schools because if you embrace and -- these students and if you make sure they have good. Campus experiences then they're gonna stay engaged with your school for decades after they graduate. They will be -- -- in school colors at homecoming games they'll be asking to serve on your committees and advisory reports. And they'll be doing their part -- fund raising season girls around. So believe me these will be some of the best you could possibly ask for. Because after everything these kids will have over comments -- -- into college and get through college. Believe me they will have all the skills they need to run our businesses on our laps and to teach in our classrooms and to lead our communities. -- -- -- Look at -- And the countless success stories from the organizations and schools represented here in this room. That's how we will win. This country. We will win by tapping the full potential of all of our young people so that we can grow our economy. And move this country forward. Let me tell you that it's something that my husband. Understands deeply. He has his life story just like mine. Is rooted in education as well. And as president. That is what drives him every single day. His goal of expanding opportunity to millions of Americans who lurch driving. To build better futures for themselves for their families and for our country's well. So now it is my pleasure. To introduce my husband the president of the United States Barack Obama. -- -- To the White House everybody. And let me begin by thanking Troy. And sharing -- remarkable story. Could not be. More inspired by. What he's accomplished and can't wait to see -- -- accomplish in future. My wife. It's hard to speak after. We're in the back of Gene Sperling who did extraordinary work. Putting this whole summit together said everybody's so excited. That much else here. As a -- About me. You should be excited -- -- here because she brings -- passion and -- body of experience and a passion to this issue it. Is extraordinary and I could be prouder of the work is already done and work on which is. That'll keep on -- around these issues she doesn't leave one thing out her speech of matters. It's her birthday tomorrow so. Now we are here. For for one purpose we want to make sure -- more young people have the Chester higher education. And in the 21 century economy. We all understand it's never been more -- The good news is is that our economy. -- is steadily brought. And strengthening after the worst recession. In a generation so we created more than eight million new jobs manufacturing. Is growing led by a booming auto industry. Thanks to some key public investments. Advances like. Affordable energy and research and development what we've seen is not only an energy revolution in this country that bodes well for our future but. In areas like health care for example we've slowed. The growth of health care costs. In in ways that a lot of people would have anticipated. As recently as five or ten years ago. So there are a lot of good things going on in -- cup. And businesses start and best. In fact what we're saying her business is overseas start to -- Instead that outsourcing what's what's -- source back -- us. All that bodes well for our future. Here's the thing. We don't -- just for the sake -- we grow so that it translates into. A growing middle class. People get jobs people being able to support the families. And people being able to pass something along to the next generation. We want to restore. The essential promise of opportunity and upward mobility. That's at the heart of America. The notion -- if you work hard you get ahead. You can improve your situation and want -- -- makes opening yourself. The same. Essential story that. Troy -- only told about himself. And the fact is it's been getting harder to do that for a lot of -- Is harder. For folks to start. In one place. And move up that ladder and that was true long before the recession hit. And that's why I've said that in 2014. We have to consider -- -- of action not just to grow the economy not just to. Increase GDP not just make sure that. Corporations are profitable the stock markets -- well in the financial system stable. Gossip we've also got to make sure that that growth is broad based in that everybody -- chance to -- expect growth and take advantage of we got -- make sure it will creating new jobs. And that the wages and benefits that go along with those jobs -- support for him. We have to make sure that -- new letters of opportunity in the middle class. And that those ladders the wrongs of those letters are solid and accessible for more people. Now I'm going to be working with congress where I can to accomplish -- but I'm also gonna act on my own. If congress is deadlocked. I've got head to take executive actions were congress -- And I've got a telephone to rally. Folks -- country. On this mission. And and today is a great example. Oh without a whole bunch of new legislation we can. Advance this agenda we've got philanthropists and business leaders here we've got. Leaders of innovative not for profits we've got college presidents from state universities and historically black colleges to. Ivy League universities and -- community colleges and today more than a hundred colleges and forty organizations. Are announcing new commitments to help more young people not only go to but graduate from college. And that's an extraordinary accomplishment. We have -- -- -- don't. Everybody here. This is participating I believe because you know that. College graduation has never been more valuable than it is today. Unemployment. For Americans -- -- college degree is more than a third lower than the national average. In comes. Twice as high as those without a high school -- -- College is not the only path to success. We've got to make sure that more Americans -- -- wage. Are getting the skills that they need entered. Access to jobs that are out there right now but. More than ever a college degree is the surest path to in stable middle class. Life. And higher education speaks to something more than that the the premise that were all created equal is the opening line and our American story. We don't promising -- comes we we we strive to deliver equal opportunity the idea that success does not depend on. Being born into wealth -- privilege. It depends on effort and -- You can be -- -- -- And work your way. In the something extraordinary. And or -- -- goes to college may be like Michelle the first in his or her. Family. That means Everett. The factors we have made a commitment as countries and more or. People -- college Michelle me. Maybe if you review would not be here today. My grandfather wasn't rich but when he -- won't from the war he got the chance to study on the GI bill. I grew up with a single mile. -- she had me when she was eighteen years old there are a lot of circumstances where that might have -- and her education. For -- but. There were structures in place that allowed her then to go on and get a Ph.D. The shells that -- shift work. At the city water plan. Mom worked as a secretary. Go to college. But there were structures in place. That allowed -- to take advantage of those opportunities. As Michelle mention our parents. And grandparents made sure we knew that we got to work for. The nobody was gonna handle something that education was not a -- better prize. It's just took her head over to reports education and yours got to work for. I've told the store -- mother what Muslims overseas. -- wake me up before dawn. -- do correspondence courses in English before went. The other school I was -- happy about it. But with better hard work but also with scholarships also with student loans and with support programs in place. We were able to go to some of the best colleges in the country. Even though we did have a lot of every child in America should have the same chance. To all over the last five years we've worked hard. In a variety ways to improve these. These. You know mechanisms. 22. Get young people where they need to be and to knock down barriers that are preventing them. From getting better prepared for the economies -- -- We've called for clear higher standards of our schools. And 45 states and the District of Columbia have answered that call so far. We've set a goal of training a 100000 new math and science teachers over the next ten years. And the private sector has already committed to help train 40000. We've taken steps to help students -- of school. And today the high school dropout rate is the lowest it's been in forty years something that's rarely advertised. The dropout rate among Hispanic students by the way has been cut in half over the -- inspected. But we still have to hire more good teachers and pay them better. We still have to do more training and development and ensure that the curriculums. Are ones that. Maximize the chances for. Student success. When young people are properly prepared in high school we got to make sure they can afford to go to college. So we took -- -- student loan system that was giving billions -- taxpayer. Dollars to big banks and we said. Let's get that money directly to students as consequence we are able to double the grant date the -- of millions of students and today more young people earning college degrees. Than ever before. So we've made progress there but. As I've discussed with some of you were -- gonna have to make sure the rising tuition doesn't -- middle class out of a college education. The government's letter mailed a continuing subsidize. A system in which health. Higher education inflation's going up faster than health care push. So I've laid out a plan to bring down costs and make sure the students are not saddled with debt before the start out of even after all these steps we've taken our last five years we still have a long way to go to -- lock the doors higher education. To more Americans and especially lower income Americans. Let's make sure the ready to walk through those doors. Added value because diploma has nearly doubled since Michelle and I were undergraduates. Unfortunately today only 30% of low income students enroll in college right after high school and and far worse by the mid twenties only 9%. Earn a bachelor's degree. So if if we as a nation. Can expand opportunity. And reach. Out to those young people and help them not just go to college but graduate from college or university. It could have a transformative effect there's this huge cohort of talent. There were not -- that. Now what this meeting today tells me is -- gut dedicated citizens across the country. -- to stand up -- meet this challenge. And what I want to really do is highlight some of the commitments that have been made here today. So we know that not enough low income students are taking the steps required to prepare for college. That's why I'm glad the University of Chicago. My neighbor. The place where Michelle -- both worked in the past. Is announcing a ten million dollar college success initiative that will reach 101000 high schools. Over the next five years. That's why I mentor a mentoring program that began fifteen years ago -- just 49 students in the south brought us. Has committed to matching 20000 new students would mentoring in more than forty states over the next five years. We also know that too many students don't apply. To schools that are right for -- they may sometimes underestimate. Where they could succeed where they could go. There may be a mismatch in terms of what their aspirations are and the nature of what's offered -- the school that's. A close by and pick -- assume all that that's my only option. So you VA for example is -- experiment with new ways to contact high achieving low income students directly encourage them to apply. Organizations like the College Board. We're gonna work with colleges to make it easier for students to apply act to more schools for -- Notes sometimes. For those of you. You know and university administrations the perception may be that in -- hundred dollar application. Fees is not a big deal. But for a lot of these students that's enough of a better that they just don't -- up -- Number three we know -- what -- comes. To college advisor. And preparing for tests like AZT in the SAT. Low income kids are not. On a level playing. Now we call be standardized tests they're not standardized. Malia and Sasha and by the time there are in seventh grade at Sidwell school here. Are -- yet all kinds -- best -- other. The degree of preparation that many -- our kids here are getting. In advance of actually taken this test. Tilts the playing field. It's not fair and it's -- and it's gotten worse. I was told -- in you know. What I was. Taken music too tired just barely Robert -- -- -- -- -- so much for preparation I did but. Vote you know the truth of the matter is that. We don't every level playing field when it comes to. So called standardized tests so we got a young man here today named Lawrence Harris. Who knows this better than most orange went to the University of Georgia like a lot of first generation college students it wasn't -- form he had to take remedial classes. Here to work to part time jobs to make ends meet. At one point he had don't leave school for a year while he helped support his -- -- -- baby brother. Now those are the -- just dated today. Challenges that a lot of these young people with enormous talent or haven't overcome. He's stuck what -- you graduate. But now. He's given back he's made it his mission. To help other young people like him graduate as a college advisor Clarke central high school in Athens Georgia. And today the national college advising for. The program -- placed warrants in Clarke central. Is announcing plans to add. 129 more advisors who will serve more than 80000 students over the next three years. And finally we know that once low income students arrive on campus show and spoke eloquently -- own personal experience on this. -- -- learned that even if they were the top of their high school class they still have a lot of catching up to do. With respect to some -- -- in the classroom. Bunker hill Community Colleges addressing this by giving more incoming students the chance. To start catching up over the summer before their freshman year. And we've got 22 states and the District of Columbia who joined together in a commitment to dramatically increase the number of students. Who complete college level math and English their first year. So these are these are just a sampling. Of the more than 100 commitments that -- organizations and colleges are making here today. And that's an extraordinary. First step. But. We got more colleges and universities -- Around the country. We got more business leaders. Around the country and flat trees around the country. And so we have to think of this is just the beginning. We want to do something like this again. And we want even more colleges and universities and businesses and -- for profits to take part. For folks were watching this -- were not able to -- today we want you here next. Start thinking about your commitments now. We want -- to join us. For those -- were able to make members today I want to thank you for doing your part. To make better the life of our country. Because what you're doing here today means that they're -- bunch of young people like Troy. And like Michelle. Like me. Who. Suddenly may be able that. C a whole new world opened up. Before that it -- realize was there. Solid -- a great story. Speaks to this there's a former teacher here today named -- -- -- but. So here's -- right. Five years ago nick founded a New York City nonprofit called blue and and they recruit recent college graduate. To work as teaching assistants in public art schools that serve low income communities. Teaming up to help students build the skills they need to -- college ready for college. The first group of students to work -- -- those teaching assistants are singers. One of them. It's up on Broderick swear it walls who also is here where -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- Could not speak a word of English when he moved to the United States from the Dominican Republic and an agent of not. Don't speak much more out. English by the time he entered sixth grade. Today. With the support of a tightly -- school commune. He's -- top students and senior class of Washington Heights expeditionary learning schools -- wheels. Last month he and his classmates put on their wheels sweatshirt unfurled a banner waved flags and march down the street to Washington Heights. In New York City through -- press. You -- thought it was the Macy's parade. But the crowds on the sidewalk where parents and teachers and neighbors. The flags were college pennants. The march was to the post office where they mailed in their college applications. I'm just got her back the son of a factor workers. We didn't speak much -- was just six years ago want a competitive scholarship to attend Dickinson College this fall. So. Everywhere you go you've got. Stores like as the -- and you've got stories like toys. But we don't want these to be the exceptions we want these to be the -- That's what we old our young people and that's what. We -- this country. 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 have that. And -- parents and his teachers and his business and Philanthropic and political leaders and as citizens. We've all got a role to play. Summer -- spend the next three years as president. Planned mine and I look forward to working when it on the same team make -- sent thank you very much but. The president and the First Lady making. Alongside. Troy -- -- exiting stage there is a Fulbright scholarship sophomore at Bard college and he was up there to introduce the president. As the White House is making a push to improve the enrollment numbers for low income students. At the country's colleges and that is why the president and the first they are meeting with representatives from colleges more than a hundred colleges. And private organizations. To push forward more higher acceptance rates. For low income students throw colleges of course the president's alumni of Columbia and Harvard and the first -- From Princeton and Harvard Harvard of course where they -- and both of them speaking today about the importance of higher education. And the importance to open those opportunities up. For more Americans complete report right here at and on -- -- New York because ABC news digital special report.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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