Obama Talks About Student Loans on MTV
Today, MTV will air a program, taped on Saturday, in which they sat down with Senator Obama and asked him questions sent to them by viewers (they offered McCain the same opportunity, but he declined). Obama talked about a wide variety of issues from gay marriage to civil liberties, but two of the questions directly addressed college affordability and student loan repayment:
Sway: The first question is from joi0924, and she’s from San Antonio: “The young people today cannot afford to go to college because of the cost of tuition. What are your plans as our next president when it comes to making it easier for young people to attend college?”
Obama: Look, this I can relate to. I went to college having to take out student loans, went to law school having to take out student loans. Michelle took out student loans. When we got married, I think together our total loan payments every month was more than our mortgage when we bought a house, and that lasted for about 10 years. And I meet students — I think the average student is taking out $25,000 to $30,000. That’s a huge burden, especially in a time when wages and income are not going up. So here is what we want to do: increase the Pell Grant program, eliminate banks as middlemen from the direct loan program — they’re taking out billions of dollars in profits — take that money, apply that to increasing the number of loans that are out there and reducing the rates, and then what I want to do is provide a $4,000 tuition credit for every student, every year, in exchange for national service. If they participate in Peace Corps, working in their community in some fashion, obviously joining the military. We are going to make sure that they can afford their college tuition. And in certain areas, like teaching, where we really need teachers, especially in math and science, and nursing, where we really need nurses, we will potentially provide them with even more than that in order to get the high-quality teachers and nurses that we really need.
Sway: OK, and that sounds great for those that want to attend college. What about those who are already in college, say for example we have Sev88. He is from Buffalo. His question is: “I am in my junior year of college. I am very worried about paying back my student loans. I have heard your plans for making college more affordable, but what are you going to do for the graduates that are already tens of thousands of dollars in student-loan debt?”
Obama: We may try to see if we can set up some programs to see if we can consolidate some of these loans. There is only so much we will be able to do going backwards. What we can focus on is going forward. I think there are a lot of students out there who have already paid off their loans and they may not be happy with it. They might not mind getting some of their money back too. What we want to do is just make sure that each student who is currently in school — and by the way, this isn’t just four-year colleges and universities. My attitude is, if young people are going back, going for two years at the community-college level for technical training of some sort, they are returning to school after having worked for a while, all of that is part of creating a knowledge-based work force that is going to be the key to our competitiveness long-term. This is not just good for young people, it’s good for the economy as a whole.
Sway: What are some of the programs you said for people that have already incurred the debt?
Obama: As I said, what we are looking at potentially is being able to consolidate some of the loans, and if they are part of a broader pool, we may be able to lower interest rates on the debt that they already owe. But the key is going to be going forward, making sure that young people in the future are able to afford to go to college.
I have to say, his answers regarding those of us who are already in debt do not look promising, especially this line: “There is only so much we will be able to do going backwards.” I suspect that Obama would be slightly more open to, say, revamping the bankruptcy law than McCain, but he doesn’t bring it up, and there’s really no way to know. I really wish McCain would have been interviewed as well, but it’s a little late for that now.