“An unforgettable experience.” That’s how UNC-Chapel Hill junior and student body president Will Leimenstoll described President Obama’s Tuesday visit.
It’s hard to argue with Will—in the days leading up to the event, excitement on campus had reached a fever pitch. On Saturday some students took to their tents, camping out overnight with hopes of securing their own ticket to see the President at Carmichael Arena. Sunday morning, a long line of determined supporters stood in the cold rain for hours just to be able to say they were there—in person—to see the President speak in the beloved arena in which Michael Jordan once played.
While a visit alone from President Obama is usually enough to generate this kind of buzz, the purpose of the event was also significant. For Will and many other students, the subject matter of this speech hit particularly close to home.
The visit was especially important to UNC-Chapel Hill because it focused on college affordability and student loan interest rates. For years, UNC has consistently been ranked the best deal in higher education. Obviously, keeping college affordable is an important issue for our students and their families.
In a speech before an energetic crowd of thousands of students, President Obama called on Congress to take action before July 1st, when interest rates on certain student loans are set to double for more than 160,000 college students in North Carolina and more than 7 million nationwide.
Will believes that the President’s call to action is critical to North Carolina students:
The looming doubling of rates on student loans is not occurring in a vacuum—it’s occurring as tuition rates are increasing at public and private schools across the country. It’s occurring as some university governing bodies—including UNC-Chapel Hill’s—debate whether tuition money can continue to be used towards need-based financial aid. It’s occurring in the face of budget cuts from state legislatures and in an economy still reeling from the economic downturn that began in the Bush Administration.
As a need-based aid student myself, sometimes it’s easy to feel like the forces are conspiring against me. That’s why the President’s call to action is so important. If Congress doesn’t act, thousands of North Carolinians will have yet another barrier put between them and their ability to have a better future for themselves and their families.
Will believes that Congressional inaction on college affordability will have a profoundly negative impact on UNC’s student body:
Right now with tuition that is low in comparison to other schools, many of our graduates can still choose to have a post-graduate experience that they truly love—rather than prioritizing fears about whether or not they’ll be able to pay back their debt. Whether we like it or not, this incredibly stark choice is a reality for many students. I’m worried that the choice will force many of our brightest minds to different places than where they truly want to be—places that are very different from where the country needs its best and brightest young leaders to go.