First Lady, With Help From Associations, Boosts Higher Ed

College Signing Day reflects one group’s effort to ease the pressure on students choosing a school.

May 1 marks the traditional deadline for students to select which college they’ll attend in the fall. And with the White House making an event out of that moment, associations are offering their own tips about how to make the decision less stressful.

First Lady Michelle Obama spoke in New York City Tuesday—wearing a T-shirt from Princeton, her alma mater—for the third annual College Signing Day, an initiative promoted by her office to encourage high school students to pursue higher education goals. The event was designed to spotlight Obama’s initiative to “make sure every student in America takes charge of their future by continuing their education past high school—whether at a professional training program, community college, or four-year college or university.”

There does seem to be a place for every student.

The Association of School Business Officials and the National Association of College Admission Counseling, as well as numerous college alumni groups, piped up in support:

Amid the celebrations, though, College Signing Day speaks to a moment where students and their families can be anxious about the cost of college, increasingly selective schools, and what school is the best fit for a student. In advance of the day, NACAC Executive Director David Hawkins encouraged students—and their parents—not to panic over selectivity. “Students are sort of swirling around and then eventually settling into an institution,” he told the New York Times. “The fact of the matter is that there does seem to be a place for any student who wants to go to a four-year college.”

NACAC helped establish National College Decision Day to bring more order to a chaotic time: The group’s Statement of Principles of Good Practice says that “no college can require a student to commit to attending prior to the first business day in May.” And last fall, NACAC launched what it called the Reach Higher Challenge, prompting its members to commit to one activity to improve college access for underrepresented students.

Colleges That Change Lives, an organization of higher education institutions advocating for improving school-choice decisions, also recommended deep breaths: “Each school has its pros and cons, and it soon becomes clear that, while the options may be exciting, as in life, nothing is perfect. For teens this can be both confusing and frustrating and parents are at their best as sounding boards in this process. Our advice? Get ready to listen, talk, then listen again before turning your attention to next steps.”

Barack and Michelle show alumni pride. (via the White House's Twitter feed)

Mark Athitakis

By Mark Athitakis

Mark Athitakis, a contributing editor for Associations Now, has written on nonprofits, the arts, and leadership for a variety of publications. He is a coauthor of The Dumbest Moments in Business History and hopes you never qualify for the sequel. MORE

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