(CNSNews.com) - Higher education is no longer just for kids in the top quarter or the top half of the class. College is for everyone," First lady Michelle Obama told a gathering of school counselors in Florida on Tuesday.
"Every student in this country needs some higher education, whether that's two-year degree, a four-year degree, or professional training of some sort."
Mrs. Obama went to the annual meeting of the American School Counselor Association in Florida to thank counselors for taking on a demanding job without the resources necessary to meet the challenges. They, in turn, made her an honorary school counselor.
"And I have to tell you, when I found out that you all were making me an honorary school counselor, my first thought was, there is absolutely no way I'm worthy of this honor. Because I know that you all have one of the hardest, most stressful, most important and most under-appreciated jobs of anyone in this country -- and I live with the President of the United States!"
Mrs. Obama is leading a national effort, called "Reach Higher," to inspire every young person to get an education beyond high school, and on Tuesday, she made it clear that she views school counselors at critical to that effort.
Among other responsibilities, school counselors "are leading the charge to get more students to fill out their FAFSA (federal financial aid) forms," Mrs. Obama noted. (Earlier this year, Mrs. Obama told parents and students, "Almost everyone is eligible for some form of financial aid, and all you have to do to access that aid is fill out this one little form. It's so simple," she said. "Don't leave money on the table.")
On Tuesday, the first lady said school counseling "is a necessity to ensure that all our young people get the education they need to succeed in today's economy," Mrs. Obama said, as she announced three new efforts to support and recognize school counselors:
"First, as many of you might know, just yesterday, our Secretary of Education Arne Duncan released new guidance...for superintendents and school principals, and he stated that they can and should use their budgets to create professional development units for school counselors..."
Second, Mrs. Obama announced that the White House will partner with school counselors and the the Harvard Graduate School of Education "to host a special event on college counseling at the end of July. And together, we'll be coming up with ambitious new agenda items to improve training, professional development and support for school counselors.
"And third -- and I hope this is something you'll like -- my husband and I think that it's time that we started giving our school counselors the recognition that you all deserve for the work that you do. So, as you may know, every year we honor the national Teacher of the Year at the White House. Well, starting next year, for the first time ever, we will also hold a White House ceremony honoring the School Counselor of the Year."
Mrs. Obama said the White House wants to highlight "what's working" in college counseling across the country, because "it will transform the future of this country. Because that's how we build the workforce we need to compete in today's global economy."
The Obamas say that for low-income students, a college education is one of the surest ways into the middle class.