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Fact Sheet: Celebrating Progress in Expanding College Opportunity for Every Student on College Signing Day

April 26, 2016

Expanding opportunity for more students, especially disadvantaged students, to enroll and succeed in college is vital to building a strong economy and a strong middle class. The chance of a child born in the bottom household income quintile making it to the top quintile nearly quadruples with a college degree. Yet fewer than 10 percent of those born into low-income households earn a bachelor's degree by age 25, compared with over 50 percent of students born into upper-income households. Decades of research have shown how higher education offers large benefits to students in terms of labor market earnings, health, and happiness - and to the community at large.

That's why President Obama has made historic progress around college opportunity, affordability, and completion by doubling investments in Pell Grants and tax credits; made student loans more affordable by cutting interest rates and allowing borrowers to cap student loan payments at 10 percent of income; made access to financial aid and college information simpler and faster; and promoted innovation and competition to bring down costs and improve college quality. Today, more students are graduating college than ever, and student loan defaults, delinquencies, and forbearances are on the decline. Through the President and First Lady's Call-to-Action on College Opportunity, hundreds of schools, organizations, and counselors have reported that they have already helped students access more than $5 billion in financial aid, enrolling 1 million more students in college, and setting 10 million more students on track to complete on time within the decade.

The Administration and the country have made significant progress to ensure more students can access an affordable, high-quality college education and succeed. Each spring, however, the buzz around the thousands of student-athletes deciding where to play college football overshadows the momentous decision tens of millions of students make to pursue a postsecondary degree. Working hard in school should be celebrated just as much as working hard on the field. That is why First Lady Michelle Obama will be celebrating National College Signing Day as part of her Better Make Room campaign. Last October, as part of her Reach Higher initiative, the First Lady launched Better Make Room, a public awareness campaign targeted at Generation Z, or young people ages 14-19, to celebrate education, change the national conversation, and give students the tools and resources they need - from the FAFSA to the College Scorecard - to continue their education past high school. The Better Make Room campaign engages actors, singers, and sports icons in celebrating students for pursuing their higher education.

During her College Signing Day event, the First Lady will honor graduating high school seniors who will go on to pursue a postsecondary degree. During her College Signing Day event at New York City's Harlem Armory, the First Lady will celebrate college enrollment and success alongside more than 4,000 high school students. In addition, over 1,000 communities around the country will host College Signing Day events to celebrate student success. Mrs. Obama first announced her Reach Higher initiative at a College Signing Day event in San Antonio, TX in 2014, and last year led a call to action culminating in 600 events around the country and her own celebration on Detroit, MI. On April 29, Education Secretary John B. King Jr. will give remarks in Washington, D.C. at the College Signing Day celebration hosted by the Office of the State Superintendent of Education.

Ensuring Every Student has a Fair Shot at a High-Quality Education

Today, we celebrate not only the start of a college education for many students, but also the progress that our nation has made to ensure that all hard-working students have a fair shot at earning their degrees and credentials. That's why the President set a north-star goal for the country to once again lead the world in college attainment. To achieve this bold goal for college completion, ensure that America's students and workers receive the education and training needed for the jobs of today and tomorrow, and provide more security for the middle class, this Administration has worked to make college more accessible, affordable, and attainable for all American families.

Making College More Affordable by Doubling Investments in Pell and Tax Credits. Since the President took office, we have increased the maximum Pell award by over $1,000, and for the first time, tied aid to inflation to maintain its value. These efforts have cut the cost of college by about $3,700 for over 8 million students last year, and resulted in 2 million additional Pell Grants awarded to students each year since the President took office. This Administration also established the American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC), which provides a maximum credit of $2,500 per year—or up to $10,000 over four years—to expand and replace the Hope higher education credit. The bipartisan tax and budget agreement signed into law in December 2015 made the AOTC permanent. In 2016, the AOTC will cut taxes by over $1,800, on average, for nearly 10 million families.

Making the FAFSA Available Earlier and a New College Scorecard to Support Families to Make Strong College Choices. To help more students access over $180 billion available annually in Federal financial aid and millions more in state, institutional, and private scholarships, this Administration has simplified the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and cut the time it takes to complete the form by two-thirds. To further streamline and simplify the financial aid process, the Administration has made the form available 3 months earlier - starting on October 1, 2016 - to ensure students can apply for aid earlier and have the most accurate financial aid eligibility information through the FAFSA and College Scorecard when it matters most, as they search for, apply to, and select a college.

Improving College Choice and Performance. For the first time, students and their families have access to comprehensive reliable data on college costs, graduation rates, loan repayment rates, and labor market outcomes in one easily accessible source. Students can use the College Scorecard to find a good-value school where they can pursue their educational and career goals while others in the public - policymakers, schools, parents, teachers, researchers - can use the data to help support colleges in improving their performance and serving students better.

This Administration has also worked to ensure schools are accountable to the public and that they serve students well. These efforts include cracking down on career colleges with unscrupulous practices; since 2009, financial aid going to for-profits has decreased by 36 percent while enrollment at those institutions has dropped 25 percent. These complete efforts to create pathways to allow defrauded students to get loan relief, and implementing the "Gainful Employment" rules that require poor-performing programs at career colleges-which are currently leaving over 800,000 students with debts they cannot afford-to either improve performance or lose eligibility for federal financial aid; and advancing legislation that would reward colleges that successfully enroll and graduate students from all backgrounds through the College Opportunity and Graduation Bonus program, which would recognize and provide a bonus to high-performing colleges that enroll and graduate a significant number of low- and moderate-income students, as demonstrated by high graduation rates for Pell Grant recipients and low cohort default rates, and encourage all institutions to improve their performance.

Strengthening Community Colleges. The Administration also recognizes that America's more than 1,100 community colleges, serving 43 percent of all undergraduates, are the backbone of the nation's postsecondary education and training system and are critical to ensuring all Americans have an opportunity to earn a quality, affordable degree or credential. This is why President Obama announced America's College Promise to make two years of community college free for hard-working students in his 2015 State of the Union. Since then, Sen. Baldwin (WI) and Rep. Bobby Scott (VA) introduced America's College Promise Act of 2015 at the federal level while at least 25 new states, communities, and schools are driving progress by announcing their own free community college programs. Administration has also invested $70 billion in community colleges through Pell Grants, Title III, Title V, and the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training program. Building on these investments, the White House announced $100 million in America's Promise Grants to expand tuition-free community college programs that connect Americans to in-demand jobs.

Empowering More Students to Earn College Degrees. This Administration has worked to open more doors to students, particularly for non-traditional, low-income, and underrepresented students. Since the President took office, over one million more black and Hispanic students enrolled in college. More independent students, older students, and parents are also enrolling in college for the first time. Meanwhile, more students are graduating college than ever before; there have already been well over 27 million college degrees and credentials awarded since the President took office. Building on this record, the Administration proposed new Pell investments to help students accelerate progress towards their degrees and increase their likelihood of on-time completion. These two proposals include Pell for Accelerated Completion, which would allow full-time students to take courses in a third semester, and On-Track Pell Bonus, which offers $300 for students to take 15-credits, which would accelerate progress towards a degree. To further decrease costs and increase completion rates, the Administration has encouraged greater innovation and a stronger evidence base around effective strategies to promote college success through 42 First in the World grants that fund and test interventions and 15 experimental sites that pilot reforms to existing higher education policies.

Ensuring Every Student Has the Resources to Manage Her Debt Successfully. This Administration recognizes that ensuring all students have the opportunity to invest in their education requires a student loan system that is both affordable and easy to navigate. This is why we have eliminated subsidies to banks making student loans and transitioned to 100 percent Direct Loans, reinvesting billions into the Federal Pell Grant program and strengthening the financial aid infrastructure. To ensure student loans are manageable, the Administration has cut student loan interest rates, saving a typical student $1,000 over the life of loans borrowed this year, and began implementing the Student Aid Bill of Rights to strengthen loan servicing and make it easier for students to access the information they need to choose repayment plans. The Administration has also capped student loan payments at 10 percent of income for current and future students through the Pay As You Earn repayment plan. Already, nearly 5 million Direct Loan borrowers have enrolled in income-driven repayment plans - including Pay As you Earn - a 140 percent increase from December 2013. Meanwhile, defaults, delinquencies, and forbearances are on the decline.

Celebrating Progress on College Opportunity under the President and First Lady's Call to Action

Each student's success is a result of collective effort; it is possible for students to reach this significant milestone of choosing a college when they and countless others in the community-family, friends, teachers, counselors, schools, colleges, policymakers, and higher education organizations-join in the efforts to make each educational opportunity count. That's why we are also celebrating College Opportunity commitment-makers' tremendous progress and unity around making a college degree more within reach for students.

As part of the White House College Opportunity Days of Action on January 16, 2014 and December 4, 2014, the President and First Lady announced over 700 commitments to expand opportunity for more students to enroll and succeed in college. Collectively, these efforts will substantially grow the number of college graduates; expand students' college opportunities and support them to make strong college choices that meet fit their educational goals and career aspirations; and strengthen the pipeline to college and improve college remediation to ensure students from all backgrounds are prepared to succeed in college.

Altogether, the collective actions taken by college and system presidents, education and community leaders, and organizations have accelerated progress in supporting students to and through college. These commitments have already:

  • Increased the number of college graduates: These new networks of colleges and organizations are devoted to producing more college graduates who are career-ready and are defining plans to help hundreds of thousands more students complete a college degree or credential by 2025.

These commitment-makers report already setting more than 10 million students on track to graduate on time by 2025, which would help those families save at least $2 billion on tuition collectively. A significant part of these efforts involve reforms to remediation, which are already on track to save over 350,000 students from taking remediation courses unnecessarily.

  • Enhanced College Readiness Through K-16 Partnerships: Partnerships among high schools, community colleges, and four-year colleges and universities are setting goals and pursuing collaborative strategies to help over 100,000 more students become college-ready by tying together academic expectations, student support systems, and community resources.

Already, the commitment-makers report adding $135 million in new investments to higher education to strengthen collective work on college access, affordability, and success. The work of all commitment-makers has catalyzed more than 40,000 new partnerships between high schools, colleges, counselors, access groups, non-profits, and businesses.

  • Improved Access to Highly Trained School Counselors: Tens of thousands more students will gain access to high-quality college advising through the training of more than 5,000 school counselors and advisors in high-need districts and schools.

Commitment-makers reported helping students submit at least 1 million additional FAFSAs and access more than $5 billion in financial aid, and expect to multiply this impact ten-fold by 2025. Commitment-makers also reported helping students submit at least 6 million more college applications, and enrolling about 1 million more students in college.

Strengthened STEM Education: Institutions and organizations have made more than 100 individual commitments towards the President's goals to graduate an additional 1 million STEM graduates and prepare 100,000 excellent K-12 STEM teachers over a decade.

Over 45 institutions reported that they have set an additional 100,000 STEM majors on track to graduate, which projects to graduating 600,000 more STEM majors by 2025.

Sustained Efforts to Expand College Opportunity and Increase Student Success

New efforts to expand college opportunity include:

More Exposure to College Campuses that Serve Students Well. As part of its mission to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful, Google is making over 100 college and career tours available through Google Expeditions starting today. In collaboration with the First Lady's Reach Higher initiative, students can virtually visit college campuses all across the country, making them more accessible to students everywhere. Students can also take Career Expeditions to help them explore future careers by showing them a virtual day in the life of professionals including a computer scientist, veterinarian, and many more. Teachers can choose from a library of more than 150 Expeditions, making them easy to incorporate into existing curriculum. Schools can sign up to bring Google Expeditions to their schools.

Direct Engagement to Ensure Every Student Can Access Better Information to Select and Enroll in College. Admissions officers from the Coalition for Access, Affordability, and Success - a group of nearly 100 diverse institutions united in improving the college admissions process for all students - will conduct outreach at 500 high schools, community-based organizations, and community libraries where their students and other local community college students can benefit significantly from early engagement and greater support in the college preparation process. These college application outreach sessions will be offered this summer and fall and will include tutorials on applying for Federal financial aid and using tools like the College Scorecard to find good-value schools.

Access to Mentors and a Support is committing to developing and bringing to market a unique mobile and social mentorship solution to drive higher student admission and graduation rates. With a focus on driving long-term student success, the app will give students the ability to connect with a network that will demonstrate the behaviors, skills and practices needed to succeed in post-secondary education and beyond. A prototype of the application was created by in collaboration with teachers and counselors as part of First Lady Michelle Obama's Reach Higher initiative.

Better College Preparation Resources and College Application Support.This year, ACT will provide millions of students and families with information and tips to prepare for college. ACT's commitment to equity in learning can be found in its efforts to increase access to ACT resources—through ACT testing fee-waivers, free ACT Kaplan Online Prep Live and ACT Online Prep for low-income students, and free ACT Profile accounts, where students, families and educators can use free digital tools to help students plan and prepare for college and career readiness and success.

Early Access to Financial Aid. is a social enterprise focused on expanding access to higher education by improving the impact of financial aid. Rather than waiting until the end of high school to earn scholarships, which often happens too late to impact a student's college ambitions or choices, enables students to earn scholarships from nearly 150 partner colleges, starting as early as 9th grade, for doing what best prepares them to succeed, whether that's getting good grades, volunteering in the community or joining an extracurricular activity. As part of College Signing Day, has committed to serving over 250,000 low income, minority and first generation students during the 2016-2017 academic year and will launch a new dashboard for community-based organizations that work with students on college preparedness.

Financial Literacy and More College Savings. Napkin Finance breaks down financial concepts in a simple, engaging, and visual way in 30 seconds or less. Most importantly, it teaches teens and young adults how to make smart money decisions and build a lifetime of financial well-being. For the First Lady's Better Make Room initiative, Napkin Finance has created a course with "napkins" that prepare students for the financial challenges of a college education. The Better Make Room collaboration with Napkin Finance will inspire and empower teens to fill out the FAFSA, learn more about options for paying for college, understand how student loans work, and encourage ongoing engagement with the Reach Higher platform.

More Inclusive Communities.Facing History and Ourselves works to end bigotry through education, reaching more than 4 million secondary school students each year across the globe. Facing History and Reach Higher will partner around their shared mission of empowering U.S. high school students to create a better future for themselves and their communities. In Fall 2016, we will launch a co-branded national public service announcement campaign to showcase inspiring students who've learned that they can make a difference in the world and plan to continue their education as a means of doing so. The organizations will also partner to involve high school students in online games and activities through Facing History and the First Lady's Better Make Room campaign.

Civic-Minded Students Dedicated to Public Service. The Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), the Jefferson Awards Foundation (JAF), and PVBLIC have partnered to develop a digital campaign highlighting public service as a pathway to higher education that supports the Better Make Room campaign. Students involved in youth programs with Jefferson Awards Foundation and CNCS' Stars of Service will be featured in PSA's developed by PVBLIC. JAF's Students In Action program powers teenagers to discover their public service passions and have maximum measurable impact. More than 4,000 students are trained each year with leadership training using civic engagement as a pathway to success in life. 99% of SIA students graduate high school, and 71% go to four year colleges. JAF's GlobeChangers and LEAD360 youth programs also engage students in public service and put them on the path to higher education. CNCS, the Federal agency that engages millions of Americans in service and in developing community solutions through AmeriCorps, Senior Corps, and the Social Innovation Fund, administers Stars of Service, an award launched by President Obama to recognize young people who are outstanding examples of volunteering and service.

Spreading the College Signing Day Message. American Eagle Outfitters, a global specialty retailer offering high-quality, on-trend clothing, accessories and personal care products, will feature the College Signing Day on its digital billboards in Times Square and will help spread the word to target demographics during the event across its social platforms. These efforts builds on American Eagle Outfitters' strong commitment to youth empowerment and education.

Making Room for College Dreams. College visits, freshman orientation and graduation ceremonies are important milestones in any student's life, especially for low-income and first-generation college students. Unfortunately, many high school students lack the support network and financial resources required to achieve these milestones. That's why Airbnb is teaming up with Better Make Room and youth development organizations like Summer Search and United Negro College Fund to help remove these hidden barriers and travel costs associated with attending college. In 2015, Airbnb began working with Summer Search to provide free accommodations for students and their families who are visiting colleges, attending freshman orientation weekends, and going to graduation ceremonies. Initially focused on serving students in New York and San Francisco, Airbnb is expanding the program in 2016 to reach all Summer Search students in Seattle, Boston, Philadelphia, New York City and the San Francisco Bay Area. In addition, Airbnb in partnership with United Negro College Fund, will provide UNCF scholars and their families with free accommodations for freshman "move-in" weekends. Freshman orientation weekend is a particularly critical time of transition for any student - especially for those who are the first in their family to attend college or those that have not travelled extensively beyond their hometown or neighborhood. Airbnb and UNCF will launch these efforts for students starting classes at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) in Atlanta, Georgia.

Stronger Support for Teachers. Dozens of Facebook employees have worked with Reach Higher, IDEO's Teacher's Guild, and other leading nonprofits to develop new solutions for teachers to help students get to and through college. Facebook employees provided engineering, design, and business support to teachers from across the country. Facebook will also host a hack-a-thon to bring the top ideas to life.

Barack Obama, Fact Sheet: Celebrating Progress in Expanding College Opportunity for Every Student on College Signing Day Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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