Push For Increased Access To Higher Education

Updated: 01/16/2014 10:55 PM
Created: 01/16/2014 10:50 PM
By: John Doetkott

(ABC 6 News) -- On Thursday, the first lady and President Obama announced new steps that more than 100 colleges and universities have agreed to take, to expand access to higher education.

"My goal specifically is to reach out directly to young people and encourage them to take charge of their futures and complete an education beyond high school,” Michelle Obama said.

The proposed steps include helping low-income students connect with colleges that work for them, as well as reaching out to students early to encourage college education.

Education officials also want to level the playing field when it comes to college advising and test preparation, and improve remedial programs so underprepared students can succeed in college.

At the University of Minnesota, officials are especially concerned with helping students get into college who would otherwise be unable to because of financial concerns.

"I don't think it’s fair for someone, just because of their status and where they come from, to not be given the opportunity to go to college,” said Rose Simon, a freshman at the University of Minnesota.

Simon comes from a low-income family, and university officials said they're working hard to help students like her not only get into school, but also stay in school.

University officials said nearly 13 percent of low-income students drop out after their first year, compared to roughly nine percent of other first-year students.

"If you can keep a student here into the sophomore year, the probabilities are much, much higher that you'll be able to keep them and graduate them in a timely way,” said Robert McMaster, the school’s dean of undergraduate education.

It's estimated that the university’s new student retention program will affect close to five thousand students over four years as those students work toward their degrees.

"I think it shows the university cares about these students and wants to diversify the campus,” Simon said. “This is absolutely in the right direction."

Some of the policies that the president and first lady outlined are already in effect here in Minnesota.

Last May, MnSCU and the Department of Education passed legislation to make the transition to postsecondary education easier, including targeted interventions for students not on track for college, and required career or postsecondary plans beginning no later than ninth grade.