Establishing Reach Higher’s Advisory Board

Today, achieving the American Dream depends on opening the doors to higher education for more Americans. 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. A generation ago, we led the world in college attainment rates; today, we are 12th.

Reach Higher, former First Lady Michelle Obama’s initiative to inspire every student across the country to pursue and complete a postsecondary degree, seeks to help underserved students navigate the college-going process by: (1) raising awareness about helpful tools and resources; (2) meeting students where they are and tailoring technical assistance to meet their unique needs; and (3) building the capacity of the school counseling profession.

In order to continue supporting Mrs. Obama’s efforts, Reach Higher is today announcing the creation of Reach Higher’s Advisory Board. This is taking place in tandem with her flagship College Signing Day celebration scheduled to begin at 11am ET in New York City (see below for more info). Chaired by Mrs. Obama, the Board will bring together educational luminaries and leaders to share best practices and ideas for improving college access and completion rates for underserved children, and serve as a way for those leaders to recruit more of their peers to join the cause. Board members include:

John B. King, Jr., President and CEO, The Education Trust

John B. King, Jr., is the President and CEO of The Education Trust, a leading national nonprofit organization working to close long-standing opportunity and achievement gaps that separate too many low-income students and students of color from their peers in preschool through college. Under President Barack Obama, King served as the tenth U.S. Secretary of Education. As Secretary, King worked to advance excellence and equity for every student; support educators and elevate the teaching profession; and improve college access, affordability, and completion. Prior to serving as Secretary, King carried out the duties of the U.S. Deputy Secretary of Education, overseeing policies and programs related to P-12 education, English learners, special education, innovation, and the agency’s operations. King joined the Department following his tenure as the first African American and Puerto Rican to serve as New York State Education Commissioner. King began his career in education as a high school social studies teacher and middle school principal.

Marten Roorda, Chief Executive Officer, ACT

Marten Roorda joined ACT as its CEO in 2015. During his tenure at ACT, Mr. Roorda announced the establishment of the ACT Center for Equity in Learning. The Center advances ACT’s nonprofit mission to help people achieve success in education and the workplace through partnerships, research and initiatives aimed at closing gaps in equity and achievement for underserved learners. He previously served as CEO of Cito, an international, not-for-profit assessment organization based in the Netherlands. During his 13 years at Cito, he led the 600-employee organization to international recognition for its work in learning analytics and adaptive testing. He is the longest-serving member of the Association of Test Publishers (ATP) Board of Directors. During his tenure, he was a founder of ATP Europe and ATP Asia.

Jamie Merisotis, CEO, Lumina Foundation

Prior to joining the Lumina Foundation as president and CEO in 2008, Mr. Merisotis was founding president of the Institute for Higher Education Policy, an education research and policy center. He also served as the executive director of the National Commission on Responsibilities for Financing Postsecondary Education, a bipartisan commission appointed by the U.S. president and congressional leaders to address college affordability. He also helped create the Corporation for National and Community Service (AmeriCorps), serving as an adviser to senior management on issues related to the quality and effectiveness of national service initiatives. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and serves on the leadership council of The Aspen Institute’s Franklin Project on national service.

A frequent source and commentator on issues related to higher education, his writing has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, National Journal, Washington Monthly, Huffington Post, Politico and other publications.

Gilbert and Jacki Cisneros, Co-Founders, the Gilbert and Jacki Cisneros Foundation

Gilbert and Jackie Cisneros are the founders of The Gilbert & Jacki Cisneros Foundation and Generation First Degree — Pico Rivera, both organizations that are committed to improving the level of Hispanic education in the country. Their dedication toward philanthropy began when Gilbert purchased a winning California Mega Millions lottery ticket in 2010. Since winning, Mr. and Mrs. Cisneros have devoted their lives to philanthropy, initially leading them to make donations to their alma maters, The George Washington University and University of Southern California, to endow scholarships for Hispanic students. This was followed by endowing a scholarship with the Navy Supply Corps Foundation. They soon partnered with the Hispanic Scholarship Fund and the city of Pico Rivera, California to create Generation First Degree Pico Rivera, with the goal of putting a college degree in every Hispanic household in the city. Their philanthropic journey eventually led the couple to form The Gilbert and Jacki Cisneros Foundation in 2010, funding it with an initial $20 million. In June 2015, the Foundation donated $7 million to create The George Washington University Cisneros Hispanic Leadership Institute.

Shilpi Niyogi, Senior Vice President for North American Corporate Affairs & Global Media, Pearson

Shilpi Niyogi is the Senior Vice President for North American Corporate Affairs & Global Media at Pearson. Ms. Niyogi is a proven leader with two decades of expertise in education successfully managing teams and issues with a focus on advancing equity and access. She is currently responsible for all facets of Pearson’s external relations and public affairs in North America as well as its global media strategy. She joined Pearson’s Assessment and Information group in 2008 where she was responsible for driving the company’s next generation assessment strategy with clients including the U.S. Department of Education, the College Board, and ACT. During her tenure, she also spearheaded Pearson’s development of the American Diploma Project Algebra assessments, in partnership with Achieve and a 15-state consortium, which helped pave the way for the Common Core State Standards Initiative. Prior to joining Pearson, she built an extensive career at Educational Testing Service (ETS) where she held various senior positions. She holds a B.A. with honors in Comparative Literature from Brown University.

LaVerne Srinivasan, Vice President, National Program and Program Director, Education, The Carnegie Corporation

LaVerne Evans Srinivasan is the vice president of the Carnegie Corporation’s National program and the program director for Education. In this role, she oversees grantmaking and other activities aimed at engaging parents and communities, improving teaching and leadership for learning, advancing innovative learning environment designs, providing K-12 pathways to college and career success, and fostering integrated approaches to innovation and learning in the field of education. She has extensive experience in the areas of urban district change, non-profit education reform, and educational technology, including serving as the deputy chancellor of the New York City Department of Education from 2003 to 2006, the President of New Leaders for New Schools, the President of Time to Know, and the co-founder of FieroNow, educational technology company.

Britton Banowsky, CEO, College Football Playoff Foundation

Prior to being named the CEO of the College Football Playoff Foundation (the Foundation), Mr. Banowsky served for 13 years as commissioner of Irving-based Conference USA. Partnering with the College Football Playoff Committee, Conference USA instituted the inaugural College Football Playoff championship in January. As the executive director of the Foundation, the College Football Playoff’s charitable arm, he will continue building Extra Yard, the Foundation’s program for teacher development. Founded in 2013, the CFP Foundation has provided over 11 million in direct financial support for teachers, impacting over 3 million students, and generating over 600 million in teacher focused impressions. All proceeds from the College Football Playoff’s licensing and merchandising are donated to teachers for classroom supplies through its capstone project Extra Yard.

Caroline Altman Smith, Deputy Director of Education Programs, Kresge Foundation

Caroline Altman Smith is deputy director of The Kresge Foundation’s Education Program. In this role, Ms. Smith supports the team’s domestic grantmaking, which funds higher education institutions and national nonprofit organizations that work to help more underserved students enter and succeed in postsecondary education. Before joining Kresge in 2008, Caroline served for five years as a program officer at the Lumina Foundation in Indianapolis where she worked to create opportunities for low-income, minority and first-generation students to enter college and complete their undergraduate degrees. A graduate of the University of Virginia, Caroline holds a master’s degree in philanthropic studies and a certificate in nonprofit management from the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University. She is an instructor for The Grantmaking School at Grand Valley State University, previously chaired the Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy National Board of Advisors, and currently serves on the boards of the Council of Michigan Foundations and Grantmakers for Education.