Tue April 24, 2012

President Obama to Talk Student Loans on Boulder Campus

President Obama will speak at the University of Colorado in Boulder tonight; part of a three-state swing that also includes stops later this morning at the University of North Carolina and tomorrow at the University of Iowa. 

The President will renew his call on Congress to pass legislation preventing federal student loan interest rates from doubling.  The White House insists it’s not a campaign visit, but all of the venues happen to be in states considered up for grabs this November.

A Lifeline

Brittny Hernandez is not alone. Each year she and about 160,000 other college students in Colorado take out a federal Stafford Loan. Standing by a fountain between classes on the CU campus, the fourth year student from Greeley majoring in Chicano Studies says it’s the only way she can afford college.

“The price of living has gone up in Boulder,” Hernandez said. “My family can’t afford to support me financially, so unfortunately I’ve had to take out loans to just be able to stay here at CU.”

The subsidized loan is guaranteed by the government, which also pays the interest on it while students like Hernandez are in school, and for six months after they graduate.  

But unless Congress acts before July, that current 3.4% interest rate will double to 6.8%, and the six month grace period will also go away.  

“That might mean giving up my car, because my mom and I can’t afford both vehicles,” Hernandez said. “That might mean that my mom cannot get the house that she’s seeking to buy right now.”     
Locking in Interest Rates

Hernandez added she’s frustrated with the gridlock in Congress, but excited that President Obama is coming to CU to highlight the potential financial woes facing her and about a third of the students on campus.

“We dispersed over $91 million in Stafford loans last year and we gave that money to approximately 9,500 students,” said Ofelia Morales, associate director of the CU-Boulder’s Office of Financial Aid.

Morales said interest rates have steadily gone down since President George W. Bush and a Democratic Congress agreed to lower them five years ago.  She and others in the financial aid industry had been hoping the rate would get locked in at 3.4 for perpetuity, but that’s looking less and less likely.  Morales said going into debt is worth it, if a Bachelor’s Degree is the outcome.    

“Anything that can decrease the cost of borrowing for students is what’s going to be best for the student,” Morales said. “As a representative for CU-Boulder, we’re always going to advocate for that.”

Republican Strategy

Not surprisingly there are a lot of advocates for Mr. Obama’s student loan plan on this campus, and in the city that hosts it, famous for its liberal politics.

Still, as a line about a thousand deep snaked around the Coors Event Center for tickets Monday afternoon, several passing students could be heard uttering not so flattering phrases about the President and his economic policies.  

It’s something Colorado Republicans hope to capitalize on.

“The issues that I think most young people are really concerned about is when they graduate, are they going to have a job,” said state GOP Chairman Ryan Call.

Call figures the still-struggling job market is a much greater concern for students than the interest rates on their loans.  And if swing-state Colorado comes down to the youth vote, Call said Republicans have a good chance, even in Boulder.

“The President is going to somewhere where he thinks he’s going to be preaching to the choir, but I think you’ll be surprised,” he said. “I think there’s going to be a significant amount of college students there that are going to be asking some tough questions, they’re going to be looking at his record, they’re going to be looking at all those promises he made on the campaign trail and saying, you know, you really haven’t delivered.”

For her part, student Brittny Hernandez, does lay blame on Mr. Obama for not delivering on all of his campaign promises – including a fix to the country’s immigration system.   

“A lot of students are ready to see change and ready to organize and ready to move and we didn’t’ see as much as we would have liked to the last four years,” she said.

But Hernandez, who will become student body president at CU next month, said she’s still planning to organize and campaign for Mr. Obama’s reelection this year, in hopes that that change will come during a second term.  
The President makes his first appearance in Boulder taking office tonight at 6:30 at the Coors Event Center.

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