by Colleen Flaherty
On a particularly warm Friday morning at the White House Rose Garden, President Barack Obama addressed a group of students and recent graduates about the issue weighing most on their minds – student loan debt.
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“These students and graduates are here to talk about something that matters to millions of young people and their families, and that’s the cost of a college education,” said Obama in his speech. “Because this isn’t just critical for their futures, but it’s also critical for America’s future.”
If Congress doesn’t take action by July 1, the federal student loan interest rate will double from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent, which will affect parents, students and educators for the worse.
The President also pointed out that while the economy may be improving, the exponential rise in student loan debt that surpassed $1 trillion last year is hurting opportunities for ordinary Americans.
How do we make sure our workers earn the skills and education they need to do the jobs that companies are hiring for right now, and are going to keep hiring for in the future? We know that the surest path to the middle class is some form of higher education – a four-year degree, a community college degree, an advanced degree. You’re going to need more than just a high school education to succeed in this economy.
Currently, students who graduate from college have nearly $27,000 in student loan debt. Obama pointed out that it doesn’t just hold back young graduates, but when Americans owe more on their student debt than on credit cards, it holds back the entire middle class.
“Those payments can last for years, even decades, which means that young people are putting off buying their first car, or their first house – the things that grow our economy and create new jobs,” said the President.
President Obama even had a personal story to share about student debt: “Michelle and I, we did not finish paying off our student loans until about nine years ago. And our student loans cost more than our mortgage. Right when we wanted to start saving for Sasha and Malia’s college education, we were still paying off our own college education.”
David Tjaden, a recent University of Iowa graduate and chair of the NEA Student Program, attended the speech.
“The mood there by the college students was very hopeful,” said Tjaden. “They were very excited that the President was once again taking the time to make this issue a priority for his administration.”
Tjaden said this issue is particularly important to the 60,000 future educators that he represents in the NEA Student Program.
“We know we’re not going into a highly paid profession. We can’t be paying off our student loans until we’re 75. We shouldn’t have to do that. We’re going into public service because we want to make a difference, but if we want to get the best and brightest in teaching, we need them to be able to go to college.”
Last year when this same issue came up, Congress prevented the doubling of the federal student loan interest rate, which Obama credited to passionate student activists who made their voices heard.
“You made something bipartisan happen in this town that is – that’s a powerful thing. You guys were able to get Democrats and Republicans to vote for something that was important,” said Obama. “So this year, if it looks like your representatives have changed their minds, you’re going to have to call them up again or e-mail them again or Tweet them again and ask them – what happened, what changed? You’re still taking out these loans. You’re still facing challenges.”
“So I’m putting my faith in you. Let’s work together. Let’s get this done by July 1st.”
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