The Reach Higher Initiative is Former First Lady Michelle Obama’s effort to inspire every student in America to take charge of their future by completing their education past high school, whether at a professional training program, a community college, or a four-year college or university.

Today, achieving the American Dream depends on opening the doors to higher education for more students in the U.S.  Not only do three-quarters of the jobs in the 21st century require education and training beyond a high school diploma, but, over the course of a lifetime, the average worker with a bachelor’s degree will earn approximately $1 million more than a worker who only has a high school diploma.  Nonetheless, the U.S. has fallen behind in the race to educate our children making us less competitive in today’s global economy.  A generation ago, we led the world in college attainment rates; today, we are 12th.

In 2014, Reach Higher was born out of this college completion challenge combined with Former First Lady, Michelle Obama’s personal story.  A first-generation college student, Mrs. Obama beat the odds to get to where she is today and sees herself and her story in so many first-generation and underserved students across the United States who struggle to go on to obtain a postsecondary degree.  As First Lady, Mrs. Obama saw this as an opportunity to inspire and prove to these students that they too can achieve postsecondary success if they work hard and reach higher.

Reach Higher seeks to help every student navigate the college-going process by: (1) celebrating student success; (2) raising awareness about helpful college access tools and resources; (3) using a student-centered approach that meets students where they are; and (4) enhancing student support systems by building the capacity of the school counseling profession.

From the beginning Reach Higher brought in the support of school counselors to help achieve its mission. Studies show that students who meet with a school counselor to talk about financial aid or college were three times more likely to attend college, and are nearly seven times more likely to apply for financial aid. With a national average of 1 school counselor to every 500 students, Reach Higher made a commitment to elevate the important work of school counselors and further enable them to provide the best support possible to their students. Evolving as a grassroots movement currently there are over 40 Reach Higher state teams of school counselors and college access professionals located across country who have organized a total of 10 national and regional Reach Higher convenings focused on increasing student success. Mrs. Obama celebrates school counselors every year at her School Counselor of the Year celebration.

In 2015 Reach Higher launched Better Make Room, its student-facing campaign designed to reach students where they are through social media, events such as College Signing Day and the Beating the Odds Summit, and UpNext a free college access tool designed to notify students and their advisors on all things college.

The Reach Higher Initiative joined Civic Nation in 2017 enabling its ability continue its important mission, and demonstrating her ongoing commitment to student success Mrs. Obama was named Chair of Reach Higher’s Advisory Board

Join the movement to inspire every student across the country to take charge of their future by obtaining a postsecondary degree.

Visit our Get Involved page for more information on

how to bring this initiative to your school or place of work.


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