Michele Siqueiros: A Leading Voice for Affordability, Access, Success and Equity in Higher Education

Policy matters, and it played an important role in Michele Siqueiros’ life. Effective college affordability policies provided her with an opportunity to go to college and ultimately get her master’s degree. This kickstarted a series of life-altering experiences that led her down a career dedicated toward improving policy and social mobility through higher education.

“I am passionate about the role policy can play to change people’s lives. It changed mine. It’s policy that gave me a Cal grant. It’s policy that allowed me to get a federally-subsidized loan so that what seemed unaffordable became affordable. You can have great policy, but if it’s not implemented, if it’s not carried out with fidelity, if people aren’t bought into it, if people don’t believe that students deserve to succeed, or they think some students do but not all, that’s a real challenge.”

As the daughter of a hard-working immigrant mother from Mexico who only had a sixth-grade education, Michele was the first in her family to graduate from college. Following her graduation from Pitzer College and then UCLA, Michele got a job at a non-profit organization and was immediately making more income than her parents had ever made in a single year. This fueled her passion even more to fight for higher education:

“I was super green, fresh out of college….and certainly didn’t feel like I knew more or deserved to make more money than my parents who’d worked so hard all their lives. The reality is that college is the way out of poverty for kids like me. And that continues to be a challenge we’re fighting for and addressing for this generation of students.”

An Advocate for Today’s Students

For 10 years, Michele has been the President for the Campaign for College Opportunity, which under her leadership has worked to advocate for access to high-quality, public higher education for all Californians. As president, Michele led the organization’s successful fight for historic transfer reform, enabling students to earn an Associate Degree and transfer from any California community college with a degree and guaranteed admission to the California State University as juniors.  Recently the University of California also formalized an MOU with the California community college system to provide a guaranteed admission path to these same Associate Degree for Transfer earners.

“I used to believe it was sheer luck that got me to college.  I do this work because I recognized that it’s not luck at all,” said Siqueiros, who has become known nationally as an advocate for college access and affordability. “It is really good policy, leadership and practice that allows students like me—who have no idea if college is within the realm of possibility—to achieve their full potential as students and as citizens who contribute great things to our communities and economy.”

Policy Power Plays

As a result, Michele has three key priorities for improving federal policy to make learning more affordable and responsive to the needs of today’s students:

  • Make ‘today’s students’ the center of policy decisions.
  • Change the focus of policy from ensuring students are college-ready to also ensuring institutions are student-ready.
  • Create a path forward for undocumented and DACAmented students within higher education.

Michele Siqueiros is a member of the Higher Learning Advocates Champions Network, a group of forward-thinking state and local leaders devoted to improving quality, outcomes and affordability in postsecondary education. For more information, contact teismeier@higherlearningadvocates.org.