So You Want to Go to College? Send a Text.

Sep 12, 2017 12:00:00 AM

by Marcus Markle

In 2013, then-First Lady Michelle Obama approached then-Secretary of Education Arne Duncan with the goal of inspiring more young people to attend and graduate from college. As a first-generation college student at Princeton University, Mrs. Obama had experienced firsthand the complexities of navigating the college application process and the challenges of entering a new culture very different than her own. During her time as First Lady, she has spoken of her own confusion as a college freshman, from uncertainty in picking classes to getting lost on campus to her shock at fellow students driving BMWs. [pullquote]Inspired by her own experience, Mrs. Obama wanted to give high school and college students the resources to thrive[/pullquote] in their education and in the world. In 2014, she started Reach Higher, an initiative for families, schools and communities to support all students in pursuing rewarding postsecondary opportunities; and in 2015, she announced the Better Make Room campaign to directly reach underserved, college-aspiring youth. Now, Better Make Room is launching the next step in Reach Higher’s college access work: Up Next, a tool designed to put college support resources in students’ hands–literally. Up Next is Better Make Room’s mobile messaging campaign that gives high school and college students and their families across the country free personalized support on all things college—all through texting. The campaign is evidence-based; in fact, research shows that this approach can significantly increase students’ college enrollment and persistence. In a study done by the researcher behind Up Next (University of Virginia Professor Ben Castleman), 73 percent of students who received the texts enrolled in college immediately after high school compared to only 66 percent of those who did not receive the texts. Similarly, 68 percent of students who received the texts continued on to their sophomore year of college–while only 54 percent of their control group peers did the same.

Here's How It Works

Students text in on their cell phones to sign up for 
Up Next and are prompted to respond to simple questions that help tailor campaign content for them appropriate to their stage of education. Better Make Room will also introduce various innovations in the Up Next content over time, from embedding images and video to providing opportunities for students to ask personal questions and receive one-on-one college advising. [pullquote position="right"]Up Next guides students through a range of steps toward enrolling in and completing college[/pullquote], sending reminders, information and encouragement. The automated texts cover topics like taking college entrance exams, applying to a broad range of colleges and universities as well as for financial aid, transitioning to college and navigating new cultural environments and making informed decisions about initial borrowing and repayment options for student loans. All high school seniors have to do is text their first and last name to this phone number: (240) 623-8319. College students who would like help graduating from college can text your first and last name to this phone number: (240) 623-2789. This takes less than 10 seconds! Better Make Room takes it from there, walking students through the college process from start to finish using Up Next. Please tell your high school and college students about Up Next! Spread the word, and get students engaged with the First Lady’s campaign!

Marcus Markle

Marcus Markle is the Up Next Project Coordinator at Better Make Room, an initiative of Civic Nation and legacy program of 44th First Lady of the United States Michelle Obama. Marcus most recently served as a political appointee under former President Barack Obama and directed over 90 high-level meetings and events across the nation and globe, including Singapore, the country for former U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King. Previously a teacher and Latino role-model for low-income students in Oakland, San Francisco and Los Angeles, Marcus began his career in the classroom as a teacher and Latino role-model for low-income students in Oakland, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. Marcus also draws his education experience from America Achieves, a non-profit organization dedicated to improving America's schools, where he helped fulfill the promise of the New York Educator Voice Network, a pilot group of stellar New York State teachers and principals who used their voices to create change and improve their school communities for students, families and themselves. Marcus has a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of California, Berkeley and loved the university so much that he also acquired a Master of Arts in Education. He lives in the District of Columbia.

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