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Obama addresses student debt at Chapel Hill

April 24, 2012|By Christi Parsons
  • President Obama arrives to speak at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
President Obama arrives to speak at the University of North Carolina at… (Carolyn Kaster / Associated…)

President Obama gave personal testimony on the experience of carrying burdensome college loans today, drawing a chorus of “amens” from a student audience at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

In a pitch for his latest legislative priority, Obama cited statistics about the rising cost of higher education but also got rather personal with the crowd of university students.

“I didn’t just read about this,” Obama said. “I didn’t just get a policy briefing on this. Michelle and I, we’ve been in your shoes.”

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On a tour of three university campuses today and tomorrow, Obama is pushing Congress to prevent an increase in interest rates on federally subsidized student loans. If lawmakers don’t vote to extend them, the interest rates will double from 3.4% to 6.8% in July.

Republicans say they’re looking at ways to prevent that increase from going into effect too, but in a way that won’t add to the deficit. They think Obama was distorting the problem a bit when he asked the Chapel Hill students, “Can anybody here afford to pay an extra $1,000 right now?”

One GOP congressional staff analysis shows that a first-year student receiving the maximum loan will see an increase of about $794 over the 10 years of repayment.

But on the UNC campus, whose students protested tuition increases earlier this year, the handpicked crowd appeared predisposed to Obama’s point of view -– especially when he brought the story home. At one point, Obama asked the Southern crowd, "Can I get an 'amen'?" The "amens" echoed throughout the rest of the speech.

“I’m the president of the United States,” Obama said. “We only finished paying off our student loans about eight years ago.... We’re supposed to be saving up for [our daughters’] college educations and we’re still paying off our college education.

“We’ve got to make sure you’re not saddled with debt before you even get started in life,” he told the students.

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