First Lady's Speech Signals White House Focus on Access to College

Mandel Ngan, AFP, Getty Images

In remarks at a high school in Washington, D.C., Michelle Obama urged high-achieving students from low-income families to attend college.
November 12, 2013

Michelle Obama lent her voice to the White House's higher-education push on Tuesday, but her focus was not on the much-discussed ratings system proposed by President Obama or on student-loan debt. Instead, the first lady told students here at Bell Multicultural High School that more high-achieving students from low-income families should attend college.

The theme is a personal one for Mrs. Obama, who grew up on Chicago's South Side and attended Princeton University. "Some of my teachers straight up told me that I was setting my sights too high," Mrs. Obama said of her desire to attend Princeton, adding that "nobody was going to take my hand and lead me to where I needed to go."

Coming amid a national campaign to promote her husband's college-affordability plan, the first lady's message may also signal the White House's greater focus on access to college for students.

Six university presidents met on Tuesday at the White House with Gene B. Sperling, assistant to the president on economic policy, to discuss the very same issue.

Sally Mason, president of the University of Iowa, who attended the meeting, said Mr. Sperling had asked the presidents to share examples of programs that had succeeded in encouraging college enrollment among low-income students.

Another administrator at the meeting, Randy Woodson, chancellor of North Carolina State University, said he had stressed the success of the university's offices in counties across his state in helping students prepare for college. Mr. Woodson added that the discussion would probably "be elevated" in the coming months.

President Obama announced his higher-education campaign in August. The Department of Education is holding public hearings across the country to solicit input on the plan.