Gene Spurling, director of the National Economic Council, held a press call Wednesday evening previewing a White House event on expanding college opportunity to be held Thursday.

College and university presidents were invited to the White House event, as well as leaders from nonprofits, foundations and state governments. President Richard Brodhead was invited to the summit, however he is unable to attend because he is returning from a long-planned trip to China Wednesday night, said Michael Schoenfeld, vice president for public affairs and government relations.

"The focus of the meeting is college access and affordability for low-income students, two issues that have been priorities for Duke for many years and will continue to be in the future," Schoenfeld wrote in an email Wednesday.

Spurling noted the importance of targeting education for low-income youth, adding that the concept of "economic mobility" is a very American one. She added that by enabling youth to receive the education their intellect requires, the entire economy will benefit.

"It is a critical measure for us, being true to our values of economic mobility but also to have the type of opportunity that will allow us to have stronger economic growth," Spurling said. "We had no desire to have a one-day event. This was about action and increasing the things that people were going to do to help low-income kids move up and succeed in college."

Spurling said those born in a family whose income is in the bottom quartile only have a 9 percent chance of graduating from college, whereas those in the top quartile have a 54 percent chance.

The conference's goal is to try and find methods to expand college access and affordability for lower income students, Spurling said. College and university presidents who attend the summit must pledge to pursue an initiative dedicated to meeting this goal.

Schoenfeld noted that expanding college opportunity for lower income students has been a priority for Duke for many years.

"[Duke has] a longstanding commitment to need-blind admissions and meeting the full demonstrated need of all students, reducing student debt, expanding recruiting to underserved areas and developing partnerships with organizations like KIPP and Say Yes to Education, which focus on creating college opportunities for low-income students," he said.

The event is also intended to educate college leaders on a phenomenon where lower-income students attend universities far below their achievement level due to cost, Spurling said. He added that such a trend can harm low-income students' ability to thrive professionally later in life.

"Students benefit from going to the best school that they are eligible for," Spurling said. "[Not doing so,] hurts the young person and hurts their networking abilities."