First lady, Ciara to visit Detroit to tout college

David Shepardson
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — First Lady Michelle Obama will visit Detroit Friday to speak to more than 2,000 high school students from more than 40 high schools at Wayne State University to tout the importance of college.

Obama will speak at the first-ever citywide College Signing Day event for the city of Detroit along with Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan — in making her fourth trip to the Motor City. The event will begin at 12:15 p.m. Obama also will be joined in Detroit by Grammy award-winning recording artist Ciara, a longtime advocate for education, according to The White House.

The White House said in a statement that in her keynote remarks, 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 call for America to once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world."

It's a huge issue in Detroit, which has among the lowest rates for college attendance in Michigan.

To celebrate high school students who are going to college, individuals and organizations around the United States are hosting College Signing Day events on May 1st. To date, over 400 Signing Day events have been planned. Education Secretary Arne Duncan will attend a Signing Day event in Washington and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro will attend an event in Austin.

The event will celebrate the one year anniversary of Mrs. Obama's Reach Higher initiative.

The Detroit event is hosted by the Detroit College Access Network. The goal of the group by 2025, 60 percent of students from Detroit schools will have a post-secondary degree or valuable credential. They also want to boost the number of Michigan high school seniors who complete federal financial aid forms.

The group aims to "build a college-going culture within all schools in Detroit. Prepare all students to be socially, academically and financially prepared for post-secondary and career opportunities. Mobilize, align, and strengthen resources to have a greater impact on Detroit's college enrollment and attainment rates."

Just 69.5 percent of students in Michigan attend some form of college; 52 percent of those finish community college and 61 percent of students attending a four-year-college or university graduate within six years.

Detroit is lower than the state average. The city's college enrollment rate is 49 percent among graduating seniors — and the group wants to boost that to 54 percent by 2016, according to a 2014 report. Last year, about 71 percent of Detroit Public School students graduated from high school in four years, the state said in March.

Wayne State also has graduation issues. It still has the lowest graduation rate among the state's public universities, at 32 percent.

Mrs. Obama's "Reach Higher" program is in support of a goal that President Obama announced in 2009 — to once again having the world's highest percentage of college graduates. At a speech in Warren in July 2009 at Macomb Community College, President Obama unveiled the "American Graduation Initiative. It will reform and strengthen community colleges from coast to coast so that they get the resources students and schools need — and the results workers and businesses demand. Through this plan, we seek to help an additional five million Americans earn degrees and certificates in the next decade."

He has since called for making the first two years of community college free — though Congress hasn't taken up the proposal.

Mrs. Obama was last in Detroit in October to speak on behalf of Michigan Democrats. She also visited in October 2011 to attend a fundraiser to raise money for President Barack Obama's re-election effort. She first visited Detroit in May 2010 to stop at Wayne State.

"Our next chapter, Detroit's next chapter, Michigan's next chapter, America's next chapter — is waiting to be written," she said in 2010. "And it will be written by each and every one of you, because your future, your city's future, this country's future will look exactly like what each of you wants it to look like. And that's what I believe. And that's why I am here. Young people, I am asking you to embrace that responsibility to be our future."