Powers Talks College Access with White House Officials

Powers Talks College Access with White House Officials

UT President Bill Powers visited the White House this week to talk education strategy along with the President and First Lady of the United States.

A group of more than 75 presidents from colleges and universities across the country met in the nation’s capital to discuss college opportunity and strategies to get more low-income students through college.

Powers said the complicated topic—how best to help low-income Americans find the right college and earn a degree—was an important one for the administration to examine with college leaders. “If you’re in the lowest one-fifth economically, you have a 9 percent chance of getting a college degree,” Powers said Thursday afternoon. “We need to do something about that.”

The higher education chiefs also met with administration officials for an informal discussion on Wednesday. Powers described the summit as a “great exchange of ideas,” and said the overall experience was productive. Along with serving as UT-Austin’s top administrator, Powers is also the chair of the Association of American Universities, a select group of the most respected research universities in North America.

On Thursday, the group heard formal presentations from First Lady Michelle Obama and Troy Simon, a sophomore at Bard College and a New Orleans native. Simon said he was illiterate until the age of 14 and lived with his family in an abandoned building after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. His story cued President Obama’s remarks on the need for wide-ranging strategies to help under-served students understand the opportunities that exist, find colleges that are right for them, and help them pay for and complete their degree.

“We strive to deliver equal opportunity,” Obama said. The president encouraged the gathering to make good on the promise that in America, he said, “you can be born into nothing and work your way into something extraordinary.”

Last year, Obama announced a plan to “shake up” higher education with policies designed to decrease the burden of paying for college, including the rating of colleges on a national scorecard and eventually tying federal student aid to the scorecard metrics.

The summit this week, however, wasn’t based around concrete proposals, but was intended as a way of starting a conversation with university leaders.

“This was described as a launch,” Powers noted, “not a destination.”

Photo illustration by Melissa Reese.


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