Several members of the University community participated in the White House’s College Opportunity Day of Action in Washington D.C. Thursday, a national event focusing on increasing the number of students able to attend college.

President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama and Vice President Joe Biden were keynote speakers at the event. More than 140 top college executives attended, including Daniel Little, chancellor of University of Michigan-Dearborn. Several other higher education officials and researchers, including Public Policy Prof. Susan Dynarski, also attended the event.

“(The speakers) focused on the social justice importance and the economic importance of extending access to disadvantaged people in our country and being able to help a segment of our population that is historically very disadvantaged,” Little said. “They expressed values I think all of us buy into.”

In a conference call Wednesday, Josh Earnes, White House Press Secretary; James Kvaal, a deputy director of the White House Domestic Policy Council; Celia Munoz, deputy director of the White House Domestic Policy Council and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said the College Opportunity Day of Action is a continuation of a similar event that occurred in January of this year, which included more than 100 leaders from different higher education institutions around the country. They added that they hoped to outline progress made since the first summit and brainstorm ways to improve.

At Thursday’s conference, several speakers also stressed the importance of college graduation for building the economy and strengthening the middle class, and said the event would help organize leaders to increase the number of college graduates in STEM fields, particularly women and minorities.

At the event, every school leader was asked to commit to work on a specific problem in education, such as college readiness and investing in academic advisers for high school students. The University has opted to work toward increasing the number of college graduates working in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, an area Little said the University plans to continue placing emphasis on in the coming years.

As part of this initiative, Little said the University of Michigan-Dearborn plans to focus on increasing the number of advisors available to high school students. They will partner with the Michigan College Access Network, a non-profit organization whose mission is to increase college readiness, participation and completion in Michigan.

“The goal is to increase the percentage of students at the effective schools who apply to community college or universities to 90 percent and to increase the percentage of students who apply for federal financial aid to 70 percent,” he said.

MCAN currently supports a statewide network of 40 college academic advisers available to high school students, but following Thursday’s event, the organization hopes to reach 80 advisors.

Little said both the Dearborn and Ann Arbor campuses are committed to increasing college attendance for disadvantaged students, though the Dearborn campus has a much higher population of low-income students.

“The percentage of students on our campus who are Pell (Grant) eligible is 44 percent,” Little said. “The Ann Arbor percentage is something like 12 to 15 percent. A much higher percentage of lower income students attend the Dearborn campus.”

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