¡Estudia, Hay Dinero! There’s Money to Study!

First Lady Michelle Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan participate in an interview with Don Francisco of UNIVISION at Northwestern High School in Washington, D.C., Feb. 12, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Amanda Lucidon)

First Lady Michelle Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan participate in an interview with Don Francisco of UNIVISION at Northwestern High School in Hyattsville, MD, Feb. 12, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Amanda Lucidon)

First Lady Michelle Obama and Secretary Arne Duncan sat down recently with Don Francisco, the renowned host of Univision’s longest-running TV show, Sábado Gigante, to discuss the importance of filling out the FAFSA. The message is simple: ¡Estudia, Hay Dinero! or, There’s Money to Study!

Students and parents filled a classroom at Northwestern High School in Hyattsville, Maryland, to hear the First Lady tell her story of achieving her dreams by going to college. The First Lady spoke of her experience as a first-generation college student whose parents offered lots of moral support and encouragement even though they had not gone to college themselves. She told the students, “I’m actually just like you. There’s no magic. It requires hard work”.

After the interview, parents and seniors gathered in the school’s computer lab to complete the FAFSA with the help of school counselors and staff from Federal Student Aid.

When talking to the students about their future goals, many were honest about their experience and even admitted that they messed up at the beginning of high school. They explained that they realized the importance of going to college because it’s key to a better future. One of those students said she wants to pursue a dream of becoming a fashion designer. She understands that in order to have a promising future, she needs to get a degree. With the support of her family and friends, she will graduate this spring and attend community college in the fall.

Both the First Lady and Secretary Duncan understand that parents may be nervous about their kids leaving home or may be apprehensive about completing the form. But they urged all the parents to encourage their kids to reach higher, to complete their educations, and to own their futures.

The Department has simplified the FAFSA, making it easier now for students and families to complete. It’s no secret that going to college is expensive, but like Secretary Duncan said, “It’s the best investment you could make.” In only twenty-five minutes a student and family can have access to the billions of dollars in federal aid the government offers towards education. It costs absolutely nothing to fill out the form, but can be the factor that helps a student achieve his or her dreams.

Remember: There’s money to study! If you or a student you know has not yet filled out the FAFSA, visit www.studentaid.gov to answer your questions and link you to the FAFSA. Congratulations to all of the students making the choice to Reach Higher!

Rahje Branch is the Reach Higher intern in the Office of the First Lady. She is a sophomore studying at Pepperdine University in Malibu, CA.

The White House Honors the 2015 School Counselor of the Year

Cross-posted from the White House blog.

First Lady Michelle Obama and actor and singer Connie Britton, right, applaud as Counselor of the Year Cory Notestine, a school counselor at Alamosa High School in Alamosa, Colo., delivers remarks during the Counselor of the Year event in the East Room of the White House, Jan. 30, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Amanda Lucidon)

First Lady Michelle Obama and actor and singer Connie Britton, right, applaud as Counselor of the Year Cory Notestine, a school counselor at Alamosa High School in Alamosa, Colo., delivers remarks during the Counselor of the Year event in the East Room of the White House, Jan. 30, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Amanda Lucidon)

Today, First Lady Michelle Obama’s Reach Higher initiative closed out the week with a very special thank you to some of the hardest-working, caring, and critically important adults charged with putting young people on the path to college: America’s school counselors.

In collaboration with the American School Counselor Association (ASCA), the White House, for the first time ever, hosted the Counselor of the Year Ceremony. The First Lady, along with television star Connie Britton, spoke in the East Room to honor the 36 finalists and semi-finalists, and 2015 School Counselor of the Year, Cory Notestine.

This past July, when the First Lady spoke at the ASCA Annual Conference in Orlando, Florida, she declared that “school counseling is a necessity to ensure that all our young people get the education they need to succeed in today’s economy.” She also promised to bring the Counselor of the Year Ceremony to the White House – and this afternoon, that promise became a reality.

Starting things off, Connie Britton reflected on her stint portraying high school counselor Tami Taylor in the hit TV series “Friday Night Lights.” She commended the room full of counselors for their efforts, stressing that “we all owe our school counselors a great debt of gratitude” as they work to support and nurture our students, putting them on the path to higher education.

First Lady Michelle Obama delivers remarks during a Counselor of the Year event for Cory Notestine, left, a school counselor at Alamosa High School in Alamosa, Colo., in the East Room of the White House, Jan. 30, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Amanda Lucidon)

First Lady Michelle Obama delivers remarks during a Counselor of the Year event for Cory Notestine, left, a school counselor at Alamosa High School in Alamosa, Colo., in the East Room of the White House, Jan. 30, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Amanda Lucidon)

Following Ms. Britton, the First Lady took the stage and emphasized that counselors are the ones who “track students down who don’t think they’re college material, or who don’t think they can afford it, and they shake them up and they tell them, ‘You have what it takes, I believe in you, now fill out those FAFSA forms and sign up for those AP classes, get started on those college essays.’”

To close out the program, Cory Notestine, a counselor at Alamosa High School in Colorado, took to the stage. “I know when I started my career,” he said, “I wanted nothing more than to be an advocate for those without a voice, and to collaborate to make systemic changes in my school to provide a more equal educational environment.” 

The Reach Higher initiative believes that terrific, well-trained counselors like Cory are essential if the United States wants to meet President Obama’s goal of once again leading the world in terms of having the highest proportion of young people with college degrees. And with Cory’s help, we’re going to get there. 

To read more about Cory and the exemplary strides that he has made within Alamosa High School’s counseling department, check out the First Lady’s remarks here.

Eric Waldo is Executive Director of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Reach Higher Initiative.

The White House College Opportunity Day of Action

Cross-posted from the White House blog.

President Barack Obama, with First Lady Michelle Obama and Bard College student Troy Simon, delivers remarks during the College Opportunity Summit in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building South Court Auditorium, Jan. 16, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Barack Obama, with First Lady Michelle Obama and Bard College student Troy Simon, delivers remarks during the College Opportunity Summit in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building South Court Auditorium, Jan. 16, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

At the beginning of his administration, President Obama set a goal that the U.S. would once again lead the world in college graduates. The President believes that expanding opportunity for more students to enroll and succeed in college is vital to building a strong economy and a strong middle class.

The President has already taken important steps to increase college access, including:

  • Increasing Pell scholarships by $1,000 a year
  • Creating the American Opportunity Tax Credit, worth up to $10,000 over four years of college
  • Limiting student loan payments to 10 percent of income
  • Laying out an ambitious agenda to reduce college costs and promote innovation and competition

In January, 140 college presidents and other leaders made commitments to support student success at the first White House College Opportunity Summit. To build upon the success of that summit, on Thursday, December 4, President Obama and the First Lady will join college presidents and other leaders making new commitments to improve degree completion, sustain community collaborations that encourage college-going, train high school counselors as part of the First Lady’s Reach Higher initiative, and produce more STEM graduates with diverse backgrounds.

Here’s how you can participate in the College Opportunity Summit on Thursday, December 4th:

  • Watch the entire summit live here, or at www.whitehouse.gov/live.
    • 9:00 a.m. ET: Opening remarks by Cecilia Muñoz, Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council and Secretary Arne Duncan, U.S. Department of Education
    • 9:15 a.m. ET: Panel discussions moderated by Cecilia Muñoz and Secretary Julian Castro, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
    • 11:50 a.m. ET: Remarks by the President Barack Obama
    • 2:45 p.m. ET: Remarks by First Lady Michelle Obama
    • 3:00 p.m. ET: Remarks by Vice President Joe Biden
  • Add your voice to the conversation and follow along on social media with the hashtag #CollegeOpportunity.

AM Live Stream: Remarks by Cecilia Muñoz, Secretary Julian Castro, and President Barack Obama:

PM Live Steam: Remarks by the First Lady and Vice President Biden:

Cameron Brenchley is Senior Digital Strategist for the Office of Digital Strategy at the White House.

Show Your College Pride with First Lady Michelle Obama

As part of First Lady Michelle Obama’s effort to encourage children to reach higher and pursue higher education, she will be visiting San Antonio on Friday to speak at the city’s College Signing Day.

First Lady Michelle Obama

First Lady Michelle Obama meets with students in a pre-K classroom at the Yu Ying Public Charter School, a Chinese-immersion, International Baccalaureate elementary school in Washington, D.C., March 4, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Amanda Lucidon)

College Signing Day is part of Destination College, a week of events started by Mayor Julián Castro to celebrate San Antonio as both a college town and a college-going town. To celebrate their commitment to higher education, San Antonio residents show their support by wearing college apparel on Signing Day. (Watch a video of U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan attending a Signing Day in San Antonio).

To inspire students across the country to consider applying to college, we’re encouraging journalists, celebrities, government officials, and YOU to wear college gear on Friday, May 2. It can be as simple as a hat, tie, sweatshirt or socks–anything to help get the word out. We would be honored if you would join this effort and wear your college apparel on Friday and share photos on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Vine or any social media platform using the hashtag #ReachHigher.

In her remarks on Friday, the First Lady will highlight the significance of pursuing and completing some form of higher education and the importance of students doing their part to answer the President’s ‘North Star’ Education Goal that by the year 2020, America once again has the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.

Cameron Brenchley is director of digital strategy at the U.S. Department of Education