Ariel Johnson, 20, a business marketing major at Howard University, would not have been able to even think about going to college without going into debt. The rising junior anticipates that she could owe up to $30,000 when she graduates.
"I just decided to take out the loans so I can get my education and then I'll worry about that when I graduate," she told BET.com following a White House press conference on student-loan interest rates set to double in July from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent. "I'm doing everything that I can and getting straight A's so I can get a nice-paying job and when I graduate I can afford to pay off my loans."
Speaking from the Rose Garden Friday morning, President Obama renewed pressure on Congress to pass new legislation to prevent the interest rate hike, which will cost the average student an additional $1,000. The House recently passed a bill that would peg student-loan interest to market rates, which the president warned could be even costlier to students than letting them double.
"It fails to lock in low rates for students next year. That's not smart. It eliminates safeguards for lower-income families. That's not fair," Obama told an audience that included dozens of students facing major debt. "It could actually cost a freshman starting school this fall more over the next four years than if we did nothing at all and let the interest rates double on July 1."
The bill, which he has threatened to veto should it reach his desk, also doesn't include a guarantee that student borrowers won't have to spend more than 10 percent of their monthly income to repay their loans after graduation.
Obama called on students and others to speak up as they did last year to pass legislation similar to the one about to expire.
"If it looks like your representatives have changed their minds, you're going to have to call them up again or email them again or tweet them again and ask them what happened, what changed," the president said. "You're still taking out these loans. You're still facing challenges. Remind them that we're a people who help one another earn an education because it benefits all of us."
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell chided the president for holding the "campaign-style event" and for being slightly hypocritical since his budget proposal calls for the rates to eventually increase.
"With the president and Congressional Republicans in agreement on the need to provide a permanent reform to address the increase in interest rates on new student loans, no one should be fooled by today's campaign-style event at the White House," he said in a statement today. "House Republicans have already passed legislation that would prevent a rate hike, and Senate Republicans have proposed a solution similar to one the president himself called for in this year's budget."
In his remarks, the president repeatedly cited the importance of keeping interest rates low to broaden access to higher education. As he has in the past, he noted that he and First Lady Michelle Obama, as well as his mother and grandparents, would not have been able to achieve all that they have if they'd been locked out opportunities to attend college.
"Higher education cannot be a luxury for a privileged few," he said.
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(Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images)