En route to Boulder, Colorado, President Obama hosted a conference call from Air Force One on Tuesday with reporters from college newspapers across the country.
During the call, he explained that if Congress fails to act in the coming months, interest rates on student loans will double by July 1.
Obama said that as many as 7.4 million students could be affected if the interest rate jumps from its current 3.4 percent to an estimated 6.8 percent by July. He explained that for many American families, the increased rate would make college unaffordable.
“For the first time now we’ve got Americans owing more debt on their student loans than they do on their credit cards,” Obama said.
The President said his current tour includes the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, the University of Colorado-Boulder and the University of Iowa. Obama said by visiting campuses he hopes to reach out to students directly on an issue that has “never been more important.”
Obama explained that this issue is personal for himself and First Lady Michelle Obama.
“Students who take out loans to pay for college graduate owing an average of $25,000 a year,” he said. “And I know what this is like, because when Michelle and I graduated from college and law school we had enormous debts, and it took us a lot of years to pay off (the debt).”
Obama explained that he views the potential interest rate rise as an issue of class and said it is the duty of Americans to help stop the middle class from shrinking more than it has already in previous years.
“We’ve got to build an economy where everybody is getting a fair shot, everybody is doing their fair share, everybody is playing by the same set of rules,” he said. “That’s ultimately how the middle class gets stronger.”
Following the main segment of the conference call, Cecilia Muñoz — Assistant to the President and Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council — and Roberto Rodriguez — Special Assistant to the President for Education Policy — answered questions from listening university newspapers.
In Muñoz’s response to a question from the Minnesota Daily, she referenced the President’s address at the Al Glick Field House last January when he discussed the importance of a college degree and his plans to alleviate student debt.
“(The President is) somebody who understands what college debt means in a student’s life,” Muñoz said. “It hurts us economically when students finish with an average of $25,000 of debt and you have to delay things like buying a home or starting a business.”
When Spelman College asked how Congress benefits from battling an increase in interest rate, Muñoz said it’s an opportunity for the House to demonstrate bipartisan cooperation between Democrats and Republicans.
By gathering support in upcoming weeks, the White House hopes to prove to Congress that it has the necessary time to pass this proposal with support from both parties, according to Muñoz.
“The case that we’re trying to make here is that this is the kind of thing that can get done in a bipartisan way,” she said.
Muñoz also addressed the recent fight for tuition equality among undocumented immigrants at the University of Michigan and said Obama is a strong supporter of the DREAM act, which encompasses problems including immigration status, their ability to join the military and college admissions.
“It’s something that we are bound and determined to get done,” Muñoz said.