January 16, 2014–Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) President Peter McPherson today released the following statement after attending a White House summit with university presidents on the need to expand higher education opportunities for low-income and disadvantaged students.
“I commend President Obama and the First Lady for convening an important summit to address the national need to attract, educate, and graduate more students from low-income and disadvantaged backgrounds. The summit was a clear success and the engagement of the Obamas on this issue, along with their personal story, will help deliver the message to students across the country.
“The White House navigated well the differences and peculiarities within the university community for the goals of this summit. The president has focused and challenged universities to respond, but did not prescribe solutions. Instead, the White House is urging schools to develop their own remedies that match their strengths and the needs of their state. There has undoubtedly been a growing focus on the issue by universities around the country and continued involvement by the Obamas will help. Gene Sperling, Director of the National Economic Council and Assistant to the President for Economic Policy, said there would be follow on meetings and other activities, which is important since so many schools that are actively engaged on these issues weren’t part of today’s event.
“The figures are staggering: 85 percent of children from the highest income quartile of American households earn a college degree while a mere 8 percent of children from the lowest income quartile earn one. While problems begin with the lack of access to early childhood education and are compounded with additional challenges as low-income students progress through the K-12 system, universities have a responsibility to do more to help provide greater opportunities.
“The opportunity for a quality college education is critical for individuals and the country. We know that a postsecondary degree has significant personal benefits of higher quality jobs with better pay, but a higher education has enormous public value since a well-educated citizenry has high employment rates, increases the tax base, and makes the U.S. more globally competitive. Those with a higher education degree are also more likely to be engaged and active citizens who lead healthier lives that contribute to reduced government-sponsored health care costs.
“Public universities are committed to providing outreach, access, and support to help more low-income and disadvantaged students attain a college degree and appreciate the efforts of the President and First Lady.”