The First Lady is turning into that cool guidance counselor you never knew you needed. Her new campaign, Better Make Room, hopes to send kids to college in greater numbers by reaching out to Gen Zers — and it's planning to do so in some pretty unique ways, along with the help of a bunch of famous faces. According to a recent White House press release, the latest effort from the First Lady's Reach Higher initiative is meant to "celebrate education, change the national conversation, and reach students directly where they are." As for where Better Make Room thinks those Gen Zers are? On social media. (Duh.) Which is why the program aims to encourage 14- to 19-year-olds to pursue higher education in some tech-savvy ways.
Reach Higher's official website features practical tools like a Collage Scorecard for comparison shopping and a Net Price Calculator to figure out how much college will cost after scholarships and grants. Reach Higher is practical. Reach Higher is useful. But as far as teen-outreach programs go, Reach Higher seems like something your grandma could have thought up.
Better Make Room, by comparison, is like Amy Poehler's "cool mom" from Mean Girls, if you catch my drift. She wants you to get an education, but she also knows what Snapchat is. Rather than sternly lecturing you to apply for college, Better Make Room reminds you with a text message that you should probably get on that. You can even proudly announce your college acceptance by uploading your "I'm going to State!" selfies to their website. And the program's got a bunch of famous friends endorsing it, too, like Ciara, Keegan-Michael Key, Kal Penn, and... honestly, I didn't know who the rest of them were when I watched the ad for it, because I am not a cool mom. But you get where I'm going with this.
During a White House press conference last week, Obama said of the program:
We want to create a space where young people can engage with each other; where they can inspire each other to complete their education beyond high school. We want to make room for their stories, for their dreams, their achievements. Because the truth is that right now that space really doesn't exist in our popular culture.
In support of the campaign, Vine, Mashable, The CW, Funny or Die, College Humor, Seventeen, and several of NBCUniversal's cable channels have all signed on to produce content. This sounds way cooler than the public service announcements we got when we were kids. I don't know about you, but I'd rather watch a Funny or Die PSA than most network sitcoms, to be honest. Just last month, they produced a hilarious sex ed series for WomanCare Global starring Jessica Biel, Whitney Cummings, and Joy Bryant.
In all seriousness, though, it's always important to get kids thinking about college. But the truth is, things are more serious than you might think: Education is the key to overcoming poverty, yet according to the Pew Research Center, only 51 percent of low-income high school graduates go on to college. On Reach Higher's main page, FLOTUS shares:
I believe that education is the single-most important civil rights issue that we face today. Because in the end, if we really want to solve issues like mass incarceration, poverty, racial profiling, voting rights, and the kinds of challenges that shocked so many of us over the past year, then we simply cannot afford to lose out on the potential of even one young person. We cannot allow even one more young person to fall through the cracks.
Very cool, Mrs. Obama. Very cool.