Obama to announce low-income college access efforts

President Obama will announce on Thursday more than $100 million in new commitments from universities, foundations, nonprofits and corporations at an event designed to improve college access for low-income students.

The president, first lady Michelle Obama and higher education leaders will meet at the White House to unveil the pledges, which include fee waivers, scholarship opportunities and additional advisory support for children in the nation's poorest communities.

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"We are going to be hosting a White House summit of university presidents from all across the country, and we'll be challenging them to recruit and support even more underserved young students at their schools," the first lady said Wednesday. 

The new efforts, solicited by the White House over the past year, are divided into four categories: programs to connect more low-income students to the right college for them, increasing the pool of students preparing for college, leveling the playing field on standardized college entrance exams and strengthening remediation programs.

White House economic adviser Gene Sperling said the efforts would help reverse trends that left children from low-income families not only substantially less likely to enroll in college, but also less likely to pick the school that gives them the greatest chance of graduating and getting a job.

"In our country today, there are a pool of low-income, high-performing youth who are still not attending the colleges they should be attending," Sperling said Wednesday.

More than 80 colleges and universities have pledged to increase their efforts to recruit students from low-income areas. Organizations like the College Board, which administers the popular SAT exam, pledged to offer income-eligible students waivers enabling them to apply to college for free. And universities are offering tens of thousands of students college counseling and test prep support to improve their chances for success.

Sperling said calculating the exact dollar amount — or number of students who would be aided — would be difficult, since many of the guarantees involved universities pledging to improve their own recruiting, counseling and admissions programs to better suit low-income students. But he said programs would easily benefit more than 100,000 students and see tens of millions of dollars in new resources.

The White House adviser also acknowledged that the event dovetailed with Obama's efforts to address "the problem of economic mobility in our country" in the administration's so-called "year of action."

Ahead of a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday, the president said he would orient his administrators toward ensuring “that we’re not leaving anybody behind, and everybody is getting a fair shot” in the new year.

“One of the things that I’m going to be talking to my Cabinet about is how do we use all the tools available to us, not just legislation, in order to advance a mission that I think unifies all Americans — the belief that everybody has got to take responsibility, everybody has got to work hard, but if you do, that you can support a family and meet the kinds of obligations that you have to yourself and your family but also to your communities and to your nation,” Obama said.