For the first time in history, the National School Counselor of the Year will be honored at the White House. The initiative was developed as a means to provide college counselors with more support since they are "key" in helping students achieve an education beyond high school, wrote first lady Michelle Obama in an op-ed for USA Today. Her announcement came just a few weeks after President Barack Obama proposed making two years of community college free for all students who qualify.
Related: Bridging America's education gap
Students with bachelor degrees make an average of $16,000 more per year than those with just a high school diploma. "The facts are very clear: if we want America to compete in the global marketplace, all of our young people will need some kind of education beyond high school," the first lady wrote.
Obama reflected on her childhood growing up on the South Side of Chicago, where the path to college was uncertain. "Neither of my parents and hardly anyone in my neighborhood had gone beyond high school," she explained. Obama also pointed out that while her parents wanted their children to get good educations, they weren't sure how to go about ensuring that.
Obama's older brother, Craig Robinson, was accepted to Princeton University, and he helped guide her through the college process. She noted that her high school didn't have much to offer for counseling. The first lady followed her brother to Princeton, where she graduated cum laude and earned a Bachelor of Arts before continuing her education at Harvard Law School. She considers herself lucky but sees a clear inequality in counseling support around the country.
She breaks down "two worlds" of college counseling in the United States. One world where "the question isn't whether students are going to college, but where," and another where counselors are spread too thin and "don't have what they need to do their jobs." Many counselors are not getting the support require to adequately help students enroll in higher education. That is "a serious loss, not just for them, but for our country," Obama wrote.
The American School Counselor Association recommends no more than 250 students per counselor, yet the national average is 471 students per counselor.
The White House is sending a clear message that improving America's global standing in education is a top priority for President Barack Obama's final two years in office.
"That is the mission that drives America's school counselors every day, and my husband and I and so many others are doing everything we can to support them as they support our kids and serve our country," the first lady concluded.