The First Lady’s New Tool for Students: Up Next

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When we talk about improving educational outcomes, we talk about all kinds of critical issues: poverty, accountability, school climate, teachers and curriculum to name a few. These are all essential pieces of the puzzle and deserve our attention as educators, advocates, and parents. But another piece of the puzzle also merits further attention: student access to college advising.

In schools serving predominantly low-income students there are more than a thousand students for every counselor. Often a single school counselor is responsible for walking each of those students along the path toward postsecondary education. The lack of access to school-based counseling contributes to a wide gap between students’ college aspirations and their actual attainment. According to a study by the National Center for Education Statistics, 59 percent of students in the lowest income quartile expect to graduate from college – and yet, eight years after high school, only 14 percent have done so.

As a nation we have a responsibility to ensure that every student has the support they need to succeed, including sufficient access to quality college advising. This conviction lies at the heart of First Lady Michelle Obama’s efforts to help students advance from college application to graduation. As a first-generation alumna of Princeton University, Mrs. Obama knows what it’s like to navigate the path to and through college without enough support. Inspired by her own experience, the First Lady wanted to give students the resources to thrive in their education and in the world, which is why she launched the Better Make Room initiative.

One of Better Make Room’s flagship initiatives is Up Next, a national mobile messaging campaign that provides assistance with college search and applications, federal student aid and student loan repayment. This type of outreach is evidence-based: Research my colleagues and I have conducted shows that these campaigns can significantly increase students’ college enrollment and persistence at a cost of less than a dollar per student.


Up Next — and the advising we provide students — is designed to supplement the critical work of school counselors. As an extra support for struggling students and for students who may not have any access to counseling in their schools or communities, campaigns like Up Next can make all the difference.

To sign up, students text COLLEGE to 44044. That’s it! Better Make Room takes it from there.

The First Lady has been spreading the word about Up Next – find out how you can join the movement and get students engaged with Up Next!

Dr. Ben Castleman is a professor at the University of Virginia and Senior Advisor to Better Make Room.