(CNN) - First lady Michelle Obama is stepping up her policy game.
Obama, along with Education Secretary Arne Duncan, visited a Washington high school on Tuesday to announce a new initiative to encourage students to go to college, calling improving access to higher education “one of [her] husband’s most important goals as president.”
President Barack Obama set a goal when he entered office that the United States would have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by the year 2020, imploring Americans to “commit to at least one year or more of higher education or career training.”
The United States currently is ranked 12th in the world, the first lady said, calling the statistic “unacceptable.”
Obama said that she and Duncan will travel across the country to speak with students and help connect them to resources that will help them achieve some degree of higher education.
“No matter what path you choose, no matter what dreams you have, you have got to do whatever it takes to continue your education after high school,” Obama told the students.
“Whether that’s going to community college, getting a technical certificate, or completing a training opportunity, or going off to a four-year college – once you’ve completed your education, you will have the foundation you need to build a successful life,” she said.
This initiative is aimed at realizing the President’s goal, Obama said. But it’s also personal.
As the child of a stay-at-home mom and Chicago municipal worker, Michelle Obama worked her way through an Ivy-league university, then law school. She told the students “my story can be your story.”
Like Obama, the parents of many students in the audience do not have college degrees. When asked how many would be the first generation in their families to graduate from college, more than half of the nearly 250 gathered raised their hands.
But Obama told them they “have the power” to chart their own course.
“I set my sights high. I decided I was going to go to Princeton,” Obama said.
But, she added, “It was clear to me that nobody was going to take my hand and led me to where I needed to go. Instead it was going to be up to me to try to meet my goal.”
“Every day, students … like all of you are proving that it is not your circumstance that defines your future. It’s your attitude. It’s your commitment,” she said.