A top United States education official directed powerful messages relating to the “serious problem of public education throughout America” to a group of Boston Public School guidance counselors at an event hosted by Suffolk University’s Office of Academic Access and Opportunity.

“We lose 1.2 million kids (drop outs) every year across the country, 11,000 in the Boston Public Schools system,” stated Gregory M. Darnieder, special assistant and advisor to the Secretary on College Access, U. S. Department of Education. He then added that schools need to become more structured overall to “fill gaps in the pipeline.”

Suffolk University Provost Barry Brown delivered opening remarks, along with Boston Public Schools Chief Academic Officer Irvin L. Scott.

Darnieder praised the work of guidance counselors and mentioned how they make a powerful difference in the lives of others.

“The work you’re doing is right on the frontline, in the trenches, kid by kid,” he said. “You know our young people and what you do is vital to our country’s future.”

Darnieder raised a few eyebrows when he commented that only 38.5 percent of people in the U.S. over the age of 25 have an associate’s or bachelor’s degree. He said that President Obama’s goal is to increase the college graduation rate to 60 percent by 2020.

Taking a proactive approach to the problem of public education in America, a new federal initiative, the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) Completion Project, is being piloted during the 2010-2011 academic year in 20 sites nationwide, including Boston. Ninety percent of students who complete the FAFSA go on to college, however, nationally only 55 percent of high school seniors complete it each year.

“By looking at the current education data, we, as a country, can get to the heart of the problem and inform innovative solutions,” said Keren Zuniga McDowell, director of Suffolk University’s Office of Academic Access and Opportunity.