By Kassondra Cloos and Kate Riley
If Congress takes no action by the end of June, the interest rates on government-backed Stafford loans will double July 1. It’s a reality that millions of students face — and that many do not understand — but one that President Barack Obama said is not nearly a high enough priority on America’s agenda.
Obama spoke to an energetic and enthusiastic crowd of several thousand students Tuesday afternoon at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He discussed current issues facing those with increasing debt and also explained his own experiences with paying for school, sharing that both he and his wife, Michelle, shared a “mountain of debt” when they first married.
“We only finished paying off our student loans — check this out, I’m President of the United States — about eight years ago,” Obama said. “It wasn’t that long ago.”
But students today are struggling more than ever, Obama said, and since he’s been in their shoes, he said he is dedicated to solving the broken system, despite opposition.
Student loans and the rising cost of college degrees should not be a partisan issue and both Republicans and Democrats have made great strides for students in the past, Obama said. But he also quoted “a Republican congresswoman” who said she had “no respect for students who graduate with debt, because there’s no reason for that.”Although Obama did not name her, the full quote comes from Congresswoman Virginia Foxx, R-N.C. He omitted her reference to students who graduate with more than $80,000 in loans without having worked to help pay for school.
The government can only do so much for students, though, Obama said. The federal government cannot continue to subsidize the skyrocketing cost of education, and must instead work on persuading colleges to keep costs down.
Obama referenced plans associated with the Race to the Top incentive program, offering a warning to institutions that cannot shrink their costs. The proposal rewards less expensive schools with more federal financial aid, and revokes aid from those schools that cannot lower costs.
Current college students are at major disadvantage compared to their parents, Obama said, because they’re entering the workforce with much more debt. He acknowledged that there’s still a great deal of work that needs to be done to liven up the economy, and said that investing in education by getting rid of subsidies for big oil and gas companies and the wealthiest Americans—including himself—is one of the best ways to do just that.
“We’ve got to make sure you’re not saddled with debt before you even get started in life,” he said, adding that he doesn’t want students working two or three jobs just to get by.
Throughout Obama’s speech, student response was often so positive that he was drowned out, and even shouting into the microphone was not enough to overpower the cheers. Not surprising, though, as many students at UNC have student loans and find Obama’s speech to hit close to home.