Final tally for Obama's "Commencement Challenge" applicants: 464

President Barack Obama gestures during his speech at Kenmore Middle School in Arlington, Va., Monday, March, 14, 2011. AP Photo

President Obama gestures during his speech at Kenmore Middle School in Arlington, Va., March, 14, 2011.
AP Photo

CBS News has learned 464 high schools nationwide have applied for the honor of having President Obama deliver the commencement speech to the class of 2011, a major decline from last year's more than 1,000 entries.

The White House had extended the deadline after receiving applications from fewer than 100 schools. Officials did not immediately explain the apparent drop in interest.

Last month, officials privately complained of "a major issue with the Commencement Challenge" program. An internal memo from the White House Communications Office noted, "Something isn't working." The memo obtained by CBS News described "a low-bar to entry" including three 250-word essays. It said, "There's no reason schools shouldn't apply." (Read the original story in Hotsheet here.)

The White House reached out to "friendly" members of Congress and outside organizations to promote the competition."

Mr. Obama will travel to the school that is judged to best prepare students for college and future careers. A White House official said the entries will be narrowed down to six schools. The Viacom/Get Schooled Foundation will help the final six entries produce videos for a nationwide online competition aimed at finding three finalists. Mr. Obama will make the final selection. The competition is part of Mr. Obama's goal of making the U.S. the international leader in education.

On Monday, the president told a school audience in Arlington, Virginia, "In an economy that's more competitive and connected than ever before, a good job and a good career is going to demand a good education."

He added, "Unfortunately too many students aren't getting a world-class education."

Peter Maer is a CBS News White House correspondent. You can read more of his posts in Hotsheet here. You can also follow him on Twitter.

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    Peter Maer is a CBS News White House Correspondent.

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