Obama Stirs a Student Loan Rate Debate

The president urges Congress to extend interest rate hike freeze.

Posted: 04/25/2012 04:31 PM EDT

The cost of college isn’t what it used to be and many students find themselves drowning in a sea of student loan red ink after graduation. Adding insult to injury, in this economy, many can’t even find a job to pay off their loans. Unless Congress acts soon, Stafford student loan interest rates are set to double from 3.4 to 6.8 percent on July 1, which adds up to an extra $1,000 of debt. According to White House statistics, about 1.5 million African-American students would be impacted on loans taken out after that debate.

 

During a two-day college tour in three key battleground states this week, President Obama has been pushing Congress to prevent the rate hike and using his own experience as an example to let students know that he knows what it’s like to be in their shoes since he and First Lady Michelle Obama graduated from college and law school with a mountain of debt.

 

“Check this out, all right? I’m the president of the United States. We only finished paying off our student loans about eight years ago,” he said during a Tuesday speech on college affordability at the University of North Carolina.

 

Young adults, 18 to 34, played a significant role in helping him win the White House in 2008, but polls show that their interest has waned. And although his campus visits technically aren’t campaign events, there have been some “Come to Obama” moments.

 

“The fact is that since most of you were born, tuition and fees at America’s colleges have more than doubled. That forces students like you to take out a lot more loans. There are fewer grants. You rack up more debt. Can I get an amen?” the president asked the UNC crowd.

 

“Amen!” they cheered in response.

 

He requested and received another “Amen” after reminding them that the average student graduates with student loan debt worth $25,000 or more.

 

Republican rival Mitt Romney, who also is courting young voters by promising to create a vibrant, job-creating economy, also supports extending the lower rate.

 

"Particularly with the number of college graduates that can't find work or that can only find work well beneath their skill level, I fully support the effort to extend the low interest rate on student loans," Romney told reporters earlier this week.

 

But according to Obama’s team, Romney is pandering to get the youth vote because he also supports a House Republican budget proposal that would make significant cuts to the Pell Grant program.

 

The Obama administration also created the Twitter hashtag #DontDoubleMyRate that appears to be working. Word on Capitol Hill is that House Republicans will offer a bill this week to extend the rate freeze.

 

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(Photo: Sara D. Davis/Getty Images)

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