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White House Hosts Second College Opportunity Day of Action in Washington

The Obama administration today hosts its second White House College Opportunity Day of Action, emphasizing the need for collaboration and expanded involvement to get more disadvantaged students on the path to college success.

There will be nearly twice as many participants in Washington on Dec. 4, compared to the first event last January, which drew about 140 college presidents and nonprofit, corporate, and foundation representatives to the White House. President Obama, first lady Michelle Obama, and Vice President Joe Biden will all speak at the event, which will be held at the Ronald Reagan building a few blocks from the White House to accommodate the larger, more diverse crowd.

Commitments were required in exchange for an invitation to the event, resulting in 600 new pledges made by organizations. The administration asked for action in one of four areas:

1. Building networks focused on promoting college completion;

2. Creating K-16 partnerships around college readiness;

3. Investing in high school counselors;

4. Increasing the number and diversity of college graduates in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields.

The focus in this second round is on affecting larger numbers and leveraging partnerships between education sectors to get more students ready to enter and complete college, said James Kvaal, a deputy director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, in a press call Wednesday.

"We are putting a new emphasis on commitments that help many more people earn degrees, consistent with the President's overarching goal," said Kvaal, "as well as on collaboration among colleges and between colleges and school districts, as recommended by many college presidents who attended the first day of action." 

The 200-plus-page report includes commitments mostly from higher education, but also pledges from some state departments of education, a few public school systems, promise-style scholarship programs, philanthropic organizations, and college-access groups. Many outline specific investments or goals to boost college readiness or completion numbers.

For example, more than 40 organizations in the Rio Grande Valley in south Texas are committing to expanding postsecondary-degree completion by 43 percent, ensuring that 20 percent more students enter college without the need for remediation, 20 percent more students complete at least one AP or dual credit course, and 19 percent more students apply for financial aid.

The American Association of Community Colleges, the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, and the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities committed to working together to improve transfer pathways for students among their institutions and more accurately report student progress.

The Michael and Susan Dell Foundation will spend $30 million over the next six years to help encourage more low-income students to finish college through support of mentoring programs.

In support of these new commitments, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced new steps by the administration including:

• Investing $10 million over five years for research on successful college-completion strategies;

• Testing the impact of making Pell Grants available to high school students enrolled in college courses.

• Expanding the AmeriCorps program by $30 million to help improve low-income students' access to college. 

• Providing completion data on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid to college-access nonprofits.

• Creating college-access guides and resources to help underserved populations navigate the application and  college-search process.

In addition to the new commitments, the administration released a report Thursday with updates on the progress made since January on the initial round of pledges.

The initial summit was designed not to be a "single day" event, but rather "a mechanism to drive progress over time," said Kvaal.

Other events in connection with the administration's college-access agenda for low-income and first-generation students, included a November summit in San Diego and a convening in July in Boston to discuss strengthening college advising and school counseling.

 

UPDATE 11:15 a.m.

At the morning session of the College Opportunity Day of Action, administration officials welcomed superintendents, system heads, and counselors alongside college presidents and foundation leaders.

Cecilia Muñoz, the director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, said the layer of K-12 educators was added after leaders in January expressed concern that the higher education sector alone can't raise college-going and college-completion rates.

"We need to foster a collective will on the part of policymakers, higher education leaders, superintendents, educators, business leaders to work together, to challenge one another and to set clear goals that will confront the equity in college opportunity gaps in our communities," said Muñoz.

Participants at the event highlighted the need to reach young people early to give them the aspiration and tools to be successful in college. This calls for culture change and more substantive coordination between K-12 and higher education.

Deepening those connections between education sectors takes time and trust, said Freeman Hrabowski, the president of the University of Maryland Baltimore. "Most important, it takes universities not thinking they got the answers and trying to tell K-12 what to do, but rather listening to them and appreciating what they bring. It's that attitude change. "

The two morning panels discussed the importance of innovation in education, working collaboratively, and leveraging data for better student outcomes. 

Nancy Zimpher, the chancellor of the State University of New York, said that there is a recognition that a systems change is needed and universities are "totally over" the idea of pointing fingers at K-12 for sending them unprepared students.

"We own this challenge," said Zimpher of the need to get more students to complete college degrees.

Lori Ward, the superintendent of Dayton Public Schools, said success in early education is critical for student access later.  "You cannot have collective impact starting at high school, especially when you are serving low-income children," she said.

Michael Crow, the president of Arizona State University, talked about working in a new alliance of 11 public universities committed to expanding college completion, focusing on low-income student success, innovating together, and keeping college costs affordable.  As long as 10 percent of low-income students are getting college degrees compared to 80 percent of high-income students, major reforms and collaboration are needed to improve the landscape, said Crow.

"We are still isolated from each other," Crow said of college campuses. For meaningful innovation to happen, he suggests best practices should be shared and technology used to re-engineer college so student learning and outcomes improve, he said.

The model of a professor sitting in a room as the only way to deliver information is outdated. "If we want a different result, we need to redesign what we do," said Crow.

 

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