• “We know about this firsthand”

    President Obama crisscrossed the country yesterday to get the word out: This summer, if Republicans in Congress refuse to act, the interest rate on federal student loans is set to double.

    He started the day speaking to students at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. After hearing from the President, Emily, a music major from Ohio who’s headed for graduate school this fall, was ready to take action:

    “If the interest rates do double, I’m going to have to count on my parents even more, and they’ve already put my sister and brother through college, so they’re not in a place right now to be helping me pay even more than they already are. I’m definitely going to talk to my representatives in Ohio and make sure that they don’t let that happen.”

    Rodrigo, a Tar Heel studying environmental health science and anthropology, shared what a college education means to him:

    “As the son of a small-business owner, the thought of paying for college was always a very scary thought. On average, half our income has to go back into supplying the business. The only way for me to attend college debt-free would have been to win a full merit scholarship. President Obama’s student loan reform has affected me because I am part of the disappearing middle class, and a college education is instrumental to future success for my family. Without reform, the cost of college education would be a constant weight on my future and success.”

    After the speech, President Obama slow-jammed college affordability with Jimmy Fallon—then flew to Colorado, where he wrapped up the day with a rally at UC Boulder:

    I don’t need to tell all of you that it’s gotten harder. Since most of you were born, tuition and fees at American colleges have more than doubled. And that forces students like you to take out more loans and rack up more debt. The average student who borrows to pay for college now graduates about $25,000 in student loan debt. Not good. Americans now owe more on their student loans than they do on their credit cards.

    And living with that kind of debt means some pretty tough choices when you’re first starting out. It means putting off buying your first house. Or it means maybe you can’t start up that business right away that you’ve got this great idea for.

    And I want to point out—listen, I know about this firsthand. Michelle and I, we know about this firsthand. This is not something I read in a briefing book. This is not some abstract idea for us. We’ve been in your shoes. When we graduated from college and law school, we had a mountain of debt, both of us. That means when we got married, we got poorer together. We added our assets together, and they were zero. And then we added our liabilities together, and they were a lot.

    We paid more for our student loans than we paid for our mortgage each month when we first bought our small condo in Chicago. And we were lucky to land good jobs with a steady income, but we only finished paying off our student loans about eight years ago. Think about that. I’m the President of the United States and—so here I am, and we were writing those checks every month. And that wasn’t easy, especially when we had Malia and Sasha, because at that point, we’re supposed to be saving for their college educations, and we’re still paying off on our college educations. So I’ve been in your shoes. I know what I am talking about here. This is not something that I just read about.

    So we’ve got to make college more affordable for you. We cannot price the middle class out of a college education. When most new jobs in America require more than a high school diploma, higher education—whether at a four-year college, at a two-year program—it can’t be a luxury. It’s an economic imperative for every family in America. And every family in America should be able to afford it.

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    Speeches Education Barack Obama