President Obama Speaks on Student Loan Interest Rates in North Carolina


The President:
Thank you! (applause) Hello, North Carolina! (applause) What’s up, Tar Heels? (applause) Now, first of all, I want
to thank Domonique for that unbelievable introduction. Wasn’t she good? (applause) You can tell she will be
an outstanding teacher. Audience Member:
I love you, President Obama! The President:
I love you back, I do. (applause) Love North Carolina. I love North Carolina. (applause) I do. Every time I come down to
this state I just love it that much more. (applause) I said a while back, the thing
about North Carolina is even the folks who don’t vote
for me are nice to me. (laughter) I can’t say that
about everyplace. (laughter) Now, I want to issue a quick
spoiler alert: Later today, I am getting together
with Jimmy Fallon — (applause) — and the Dave Matthews Band — (applause) — right here on campus. We’re going to tape Jimmy’s
show for tonight — so I want everybody to tune in, make
sure it has high ratings. (laughter) It’s a Dave Matthews
fan right here. We’ve got some wonderful people
who are here who are doing a great job for you guys. First of all, your Governor,
Bev Perdue, is in the house. Give her a big
round of applause. (applause) There she is. We’ve got your Congressman,
Dave Price — Congressman David Price. (applause) Congressmen GK Butterfield. (applause) Congressman Brad Miller. (applause) Your Mayor, Mark Kleinschmidt. (applause) Chancellor of UNC, Holden Thorp. (applause) Audience Member:
Four more years! Four more years! The President:
It is great to be back on the
Lady Tar Heels’ home court. (applause) This is an arena with some
serious hoops history. I know the men’s team used
to play here back in the day. I just want to remind you right
off the bat — I picked UNC to win it all in March Madness. (applause) Want to point out. And if Kendall
hadn’t gotten hurt — (laughter) — who knows where
we might have been. I saw McAdoo, by the
way, at the airport. He came by and said hello, which
I was excited — so I just want you to know I have
faith in you guys. (applause) Now, it’s always good to begin
with some easy applause lines — talk about the Tar Heels. (laughter) But the reason I came to Chapel
Hill today is to talk about what most of you do here every
single day — and that’s study, I assume. (laughter) Higher education is the single
most important investment you can make in your future. (applause) So I’m proud of all of you for
doing what it takes to make that investment — for the long hours
in the library — I hope — (laughter) — in the lab, in the classroom. This has never been
more important. Whether you’re here at a
four-year college or university, or you’re at a two-year
community college, in today’s economy, there’s no
greater predictor of individual success than a good education. (applause) Right now, the unemployment rate
for Americans with a college degree or more is about
half the national average. The incomes of folks with a
college degree are twice as high as those who don’t
have a high school diploma. A higher education is
the clearest path into the middle class. (applause) Now, I know that those of you
who are about to graduate are wondering about what’s
in store for your future. Not even four years ago, just as
the global economy was about to enter into freefall, you
were still trying to find your way around campus. And you’ve spent your years here
at a time when the whole world has been trying to recover, but
has not yet fully recovered from the worst economic crisis
since the Great Depression, the worst economic crisis in
most of our lifetimes — and that includes your teachers. Our businesses have added more
than 4 million jobs over the past two years, but — (video error) I know the men’s team used
to play here back in the day. I just want to remind you right
off the bat — I picked UNC to win it all in March Madness. (applause) Want to point out. And if Kendall
hadn’t gotten hurt — (laughter) — who knows where
we might have been. I saw McAdoo, by the
way, at the airport. He came by and said hello, which
I was excited — so I just want you to know I have
faith in you guys. (applause) Now, it’s always good to begin
with some easy applause lines — talk about the Tar Heels. (laughter) But the reason I came to Chapel
Hill today is to talk about what most of you do here every
single day — and that’s study, I assume. (laughter) Higher education is the single
most important investment you can make in your future. (applause) So I’m proud of all of you for
doing what it takes to make that investment — for the long hours
in the library — I hope — (laughter) — in the lab, in the classroom. This has never been
more important. Whether you’re here at a
four-year college or university, or you’re at a two-year
community college, in today’s economy, there’s no
greater predictor of individual success than a good education. (applause) Right now, the unemployment rate
for Americans with a college degree or more is about
half the national average. The incomes of folks with a
college degree are twice as high as those who don’t
have a high school diploma. A higher education is
the clearest path into the middle class. (applause) Now, I know that those of you
who are about to graduate are wondering about what’s
in store for your future. Not even four years ago, just as
the global economy was about to enter into freefall, you
were still trying to find your way around campus. And you’ve spent your years here
at a time when the whole world has been trying to recover, but
has not yet fully recovered from the worst economic crisis
since the Great Depression, the worst economic crisis in
most of our lifetimes — and that includes your teachers. Our businesses have added more
than 4 million jobs over the past two years, but we all know
there’s still too many Americans out there looking for work or
trying to find a job that pays enough to cover the bills
and make the mortgage. We still have too many folks
in the middle class that are searching for that security
that started slipping away years before the recession hit. So we’ve still got a lot of work
to do to rebuild this economy so that it lasts, so that it’s
solid, so that it’s firm. But what I want you to know is
that the degree you earn from UNC will be the best tool you
have to achieve that basic American promise — the
idea that if you work hard, you can do well enough to
raise a family and own a home, send your own kids to
college, put a little away for retirement. (applause) That American Dream
is within your reach. (applause) And there’s another
part of this dream, which is the idea that each
generation is going to know a little bit more opportunity
than the last generation. That our kids — I can tell
you now as a parent — and I guarantee you, your parents feel
this about you — nothing is more important than
your kid’s success. You want them to do
better than you did. (applause) You want them to shoot
higher, strive more, and succeed beyond
your imagination. So keeping that promise alive is
the defining issue of our time. I don’t want this to be a
country where a shrinking number of Americans are
doing really, really well, but a growing number of people
are just struggling to get by. That’s not my idea of America. (applause) I don’t want that
future for you. I don’t want that
future for my daughters. I want this forever to be a
country where everybody gets a fair shot and everybody
is doing their fair share, and everybody is playing
by the same set of rules. (applause) That’s the America
I know and love. That’s the America
within our reach. I think back to my grandfather. He had a chance to go to college
because this country decided every returning veteran of World
War II should be able to afford it, should be able
to go to college. (applause) My mother was able to raise two
kids by herself because she was able to get grants and work
her way through school. (applause) I am only standing here
today, Michelle is only who she is today — (applause) — because of scholarships
and student loans. That gave us a shot
at a great education. We didn’t come from
families of means, but we knew that if we
worked hard we’d have a shot. This country has always made
a commitment to put a good education within the reach
of all who are willing to work for it. That’s what makes us special. That’s what made us an
economic superpower. That’s what kept us at the
forefront of business and science and technology
and medicine. And that’s a commitment we
have to reaffirm today in 2012. (applause) Now, everybody will give
lip service to this. You’ll hear a lot
of folks say, yes, education is important
— it’s important. (laughter) But it requires not
just words but deeds. And the fact is, that since
most of you were born, tuition and fees at America’s
colleges have more than doubled. And that forces students
like you to take out a lot more loans. There are fewer grants. You rack up more debt. Can I get an “amen”? Audience:
Amen! (chatter) The President:
Now, the average student who
borrows to pay for college now graduates with about
$25,000 in student loan debt. That’s the average
— some are more. Can I get an “amen” for that? Audience:
Amen! The President:
Yes — because some folks
have more debt than that. Audience Member:
Amen! (laughter and applause) The President:
Americans now owe more
on their student loans than they do on
their credit cards. And living with that kind of
debt means that this generation is not getting off to the same
start that previous generations — because you’re already
loaded up with debt. So that means you’ve got to make
pretty tough choices when you are first starting out. You might have to put
off buying a house. It might mean that you can’t
go after that great idea for a startup that you have, because
you’re still paying off loans. Maybe you’ve got to wait
longer to start a family, or save for retirement. When a big chunk of every
paycheck goes towards loan debt, that’s not just tough on you,
that’s not just tough for middle-class families, it’s not
just tough on your parents — it’s painful for the economy,
because that money is not going to help businesses grow. I mean, think about the sooner
you can start buying a house, that’s good for the
housing industry. The sooner you can
start up that business, that means you’re hiring some
folks — that grows the economy. And this is something Michelle
and I know about firsthand. I just wanted everybody here
to understand this is not — I didn’t just read about this. (laughter and applause) I didn’t just get some
talking points about this. I didn’t just get a
policy briefing on this. Michelle and I, we’ve
been in your shoes. Like I said, we didn’t
come from wealthy families. So when we graduated from
college and law school, we had a mountain of debt. When we married, we
got poorer together. (laughter and applause) We added up our assets
and there were no assets. (laughter) And we added up our liabilities
and there were a lot of liabilities, basically in
the form of student loans. We paid more in student loans
than we paid on our mortgage when we finally did buy a condo. For the first eight
years of our marriage, we were paying more in student
loans than what we were paying for our mortgage. So we know what this is about. And we were lucky to land good
jobs with a steady income. But we only finished paying
off our student loans — check this out, all right, I’m the
President of the United States — (laughter and applause) — we only finished paying
off our student loans about eight years ago. (laughter) That wasn’t that long ago. And that wasn’t easy, especially
because when we had Malia and Sasha, we’re supposed to be
saving up for their college educations, and we’re
still paying off our college educations. So we have to make college more
affordable for our young people. That’s the bottom line. (applause) And like I said, look, not
everybody is going to go to a four-year college or university. You may go to a
community college. You may go to a technical school
and get into the workforce. And then, it may turn out that
after you’ve had kids and you’re 35, you go back to school
because you’re retraining for something new. But no matter what it is, no
matter what field you’re in, you’re going to have to
engage in lifelong learning. That’s the nature of
the economy today. And we’ve got to make
sure that’s affordable. That’s good for the
country; it’s good for you. At this make-or-break
moment for the middle class, we’ve got to make sure that
you’re not saddled with debt before you even get
started in life. (applause) Because I believe college isn’t
just one of the best investments you can make in your future —
it’s one of the best investments America can make in our future. This is important for all of us. (applause) We can’t price the middle class
out of a college education. Not at a time when most new jobs
in America will require more than a high school diploma. Whether it’s at a four-year
college or a two-year program, we can’t make higher
education a luxury. It’s an economic imperative. Every American family
should be able to afford it. (applause) Audience Member:
Amen! The President:
So that’s why I’m here. Now, before I ask for your
help — I’ve got something very specific I’m going
to need you to do. But, North Carolina, indulge me. I want to briefly tell you what
we’ve already done to help make college more affordable,
because we’ve done a lot. Before I took office, we had a
student loan system where tens of billions of taxpayer
dollars were going to banks, not students. They were processing student
loan programs except the student loans were federally guaranteed
so they weren’t taking any big risks, but they were still
taking billions of dollars out of the system. So we changed it. Some in Washington fought tooth
and nail to protect the status quo, where billions of
dollars were going to banks instead of students. And they wanted to protect that. They wanted to keep those
dollars flowing to the banks. One of them said — and I’m
going to quote here because it gives you a sense of the
attitudes sometimes we’re dealing with in Washington. They said, it would be “an
outrage” — if we changed the system so that the money wasn’t
going through banks and they weren’t making billions of
dollars of profits off of it — said it was “an outrage.” And I said, no, the real outrage
is letting these banks keep these subsidies without taking
any risks while students are working two or three
jobs just to get by. That’s an outrage.
That’s an outrage. (applause) So we kept at it, we kept
it at — we won that fight. Today, that money is going where
it should be going — should have been going in the first
place — it’s going directly to students. We’re bypassing the middleman. That means we can raise Pell
grants to a higher level. More people are eligible. More young people are able
to afford college because of what we did. (applause) Over 10 years, that’s going to
be $60 billion that’s going to students that wasn’t
going to students before. (applause) Now, then, last fall, I acted
to cap student loan payments faster, so that nearly 1.6
million students who make their payments on time will only
have to pay 10 percent of their monthly income towards
loans once they graduate. (applause) Now, this is useful — this is
especially helpful for young people who decide, like
Domonique, to become teachers, or maybe they go
into one of the — Audience Member:
Social work. The President:
— social work or one of
the helping professions. (applause) And they may not get
paid a lot of money, but they’ve got a lot of debt. And so being able to cap how
much per month you’re paying as a percentage of your income
gives you a little bit more security knowing you can
choose that profession. And then we wanted every student
to have access to a simple factsheet on student
loans and financial aid, so you can have all the
information you need to make your own choices about
how to pay for college. And we set up this new consumer
watchdog called the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau — (applause) — and so they’re now
putting out this information. We call it “Know
Before You Owe.” Know before you owe. It’s something Michelle and I
wish we had had when we were in your shoes — because sometimes
we got surprised by some of this debt that we were racking up. So that’s what we’ve done. But it’s not enough just
to increase student aid. We can’t keep subsidizing
skyrocketing tuition or we’ll run out of money. And colleges and universities,
they’ve got to do their part also to keep college costs down. (applause) So I’ve told Congress to steer
federal aid to those schools that keep tuition affordable,
that provide good value, that serve their students well. And we’ve put colleges on
notice: If you can’t stop tuition from just going up every
single year a lot faster than inflation, then funding
you get from taxpayers, at least at the federal level,
will go down — because we need to push colleges to do better,
and hold them accountable if they don’t. (applause) Now, public
universities know well, and Governor Perdue knows well
— states also have to do their part by making higher
education a higher priority in their budgets. (applause) I know that Bev is fighting hard
to make tuition affordable for North Carolina families. That’s a priority for her. But last year, over 40
states cut their higher education spending. And these budget cuts have been
among the largest factors in tuition increases at public
colleges over the past decade. So we’re challenging states
to take responsibility. We told them, if you can find
new ways to bring down the cost of college and make it easier
for students to graduate, then we’ll help you do it. But I want everybody here, as
you’re thinking about voting, make sure you know where your
state representative and your state senator stands
when it comes to funding higher education. (applause) They’ve got to be responsible. They’ve got to be
accountable as well to prioritize higher education. (applause) All right. So helping more families,
helping more young people afford a higher education; offering
incentives for states and colleges and universities to
keep their costs down — that’s what we’ve been doing. Now Congress has
to do their part. They need to extend the tuition
tax credit that we put in place back when I came into office. It’s saving middle-class
families thousands of dollars. (applause) Congress needs to safeguard
aid for low-income students, like Pell grants, so that
today’s freshmen and sophomores know that they’ll be
able to count on it. (applause) That’s what Congress has to do. Congress needs to give more
young people the chance to earn their way through college
by doubling the number of work/study jobs over
the next five years. (applause) That’s what Congress
needs to do. And then there’s one specific
thing — and now this is where you come in — there’s one
specific thing that Congress needs to do right now to prevent
the interest rates on student loans, federal student loans,
from shooting up and shaking you down. So this is where you come in. I want to explain this, so
everybody listen carefully. Five years ago, Congress cut
the rate on federal student loans in half. That was a good thing to do. But on July 1st — that’s a
little over two months from now — that rate cut expires. And if Congress does nothing,
the interest rates on those loans will double overnight. So I’m assuming a lot of people
here have federal student loans. The interest rates will
double unless Congress acts by July 1st. And just to give you some sense
of perspective — for each year that Congress doesn’t act, the
average student with these loans will rack up an additional
$1,000 in debt — an extra thousand dollars. That’s basically a tax hike for
more than 7 million students across America — more than
160,000 students here in North Carolina alone. Anybody here can afford to
pay an extra $1,000 right now? Audience:
No! (laughter) The President:
I didn’t think so. (laughter) So stopping this from happening
should be a no-brainer. Helping more of our young
people afford college, that should be at the
forefront of America’s agenda. It shouldn’t be a Republican
or a Democratic issue. (applause) This is an American issue. (applause) The Stafford loans
we’re talking about, they’re named after
a Republican senator. The Pell grants that have helped
millions of Americans earn a college education, that’s named
after a Democratic senator. When Congress cut those
rates five years ago, 77 Republicans in the House of
Representatives voted for it — along with a couple
hundred Democrats — (laughter) — including the
Democrats who are here. (applause) So this shouldn’t
be a partisan issue. And yet, the Republicans who run
Congress right now have not yet said whether or not they’ll
stop your rates from doubling. We’re two months away. Some have hinted that they’d
only do it if we cut things like aid for low-income
students instead. So the idea would
be, well, all right, we’ll keep interest rates low
if we take away aid from other students who need it. That doesn’t make sense. One Republican congresswoman
said just recently — I’m going to quote this because I
know you guys will think I’m making it up — (laughter) Audience Member:
We trust you. (laughter) The President:
No, no, no. She said she had “very little
tolerance for people who tell me they graduate with debt because
there’s no reason for that.” Audience:
Booo — The President:
I’m just quoting here. I’m just quoting. She said, students who rack
up student loan debt are just sitting on their butts,
having opportunity “dumped in your lap.” Audience:
Booo — The President:
I mean, I’m reading it here,
so I didn’t make this up. Now, can you imagine
saying something like that? Those of you who have had
to take out student loans, you didn’t do it
because you’re lazy. You didn’t do it lightly. You don’t like debt. I mean, a lot of you, your
parents are helping out, but it’s tough on them. They’re straining. And so you do it because the
cost of college keeps going up and you know this is an
investment in your future. So if these folks in Washington
were serious about making college more affordable, they
wouldn’t have voted for a budget that could cut financial aid
for tens of millions of college students by an average
of more than $1,000. Audience Member:
Absolutely! (laughter) The President:
They certainly wouldn’t
let your student loan rates double overnight. So when you ask them,
well, why aren’t you making this commitment? They say, well, we got to
bring down the deficit. Of course, this is the
deficit they helped run up over the past decade. (applause) Didn’t pay for two wars. Didn’t pay for two
massive tax cuts. And now this is the reason why
you want students to pay more? They just voted to keep giving
billions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies to big oil
companies that are raking in record profits. Audience:
Booo — The President:
They just voted to
let millionaires and billionaires keep paying lower
tax rates than middle-class workers and their secretaries. Audience:
Booo — The President:
They even voted to give
an average tax cut of at least $150,000
to folks like me, the wealthiest Americans —
a tax cut paid for by cutting things like education and job
training programs that give students new opportunities
to work and succeed. Now, that’s their priorities. And that doesn’t make any sense. Do we want to keep tax cuts for
the wealthiest Americans who don’t need them and
didn’t ask for them? Or do we want to make sure that
they’re paying their fair share? (applause) Do we want to keep
subsidizing big oil, or do we want to make sure
we’re investing in clean energy? (applause) Do we want to jack up interest
rates on millions of students, or do we want to keep investing
in things that will help us and help them in the long-term
— things like education and science, and a strong military
and care for our veterans? (applause) We can’t do both. We can’t have it both ways. We’ve got to make a choice
about what our priorities are. (applause) You know, I’ve said this before,
but I’m just going to keep on repeating it: In America,
we admire success. We aspire to it. I want everybody to be rich. I want everybody to work and
hustle and start businesses and study your tails
off to get there. (laughter) But America is not just about
a few people doing well. America is about giving
everybody a chance to do well. (applause) Everybody — not just
a few — everybody. (applause) That’s what built this country. That’s what the American
Dream is all about. A lot of us had parents
or grandparents who said, maybe I can’t go to college,
but some day my son, he’ll go to college and
I’ll be so proud of him. A lot of us had parents
or grandparents who said, maybe I can’t start
my own business, but maybe some day my daughter,
she’s going to start her own business, she’s going
to work for herself. (applause) A lot of us had parents
or grandparents who said, I may be an immigrant, but I
believe that this is a country where no matter what you look
like and where you come from, no matter what your name is,
you can make it if you try. (applause) North Carolina,
that’s who we are. That’s our values. That’s what we’re about. So, no, “set your sights lowe”
— that’s not an education plan. “You’re on your own” —
that’s not an economic plan. We can’t just cut our
way to prosperity. Previous generations made the
investments necessary for us to succeed, to build a
strong middle class, to create the foundation for
America’s leadership in science and technology and
medicine and manufacturing. And now it’s our turn. We’ve got to do the right thing. I want one of you to
discover the cure for cancer, or the formula for fusion,
or the next game-changing American industry. (applause) And that means we’ve got
to support those efforts. So if you agree with
me, I need your help. I need you to tell your
member of Congress, we’re not going to
set our sights lower. We’re not going to settle
for something less. Now, all of you are lucky, you
already have three congressmen who are on board. So don’t — you don’t
need to call them. (laughter and applause) They’re already doing
the right thing. But I’m asking everyone else
who’s watching or following online — call your
member of Congress. Email them. Write on their Facebook page. Tweet them — we’ve
got a hashtag. (laughter) Here’s the hashtag for you to
tweet them: #dontdoublemyrate. (applause) All right? #dontdoublemyrate I’m going to repeat that — the
hashtag is #dontdoublemyrate. You tweet — everybody say it
just so everybody remembers it. Audience:
Don’t double my rate. The President:
Don’t double my rate —
it’s pretty straightforward. Your voice matters. So stand up. Be heard. Be counted. Tell them now is not the time
to double interest rates on your student loans. Now is the time to double down
on smart investments to build a strong and secure middle class. Now is the time to
double down on building an America that lasts. Audience:
Absolutely! The President:
You — absolutely. (applause) You and me, all of us here,
every single one of us — we’re here only because
somebody, somewhere, felt responsibility not
just for themselves, but they felt responsibility
for something larger. It started with them feeling
responsible for their families. So your parents sacrificed, your
grandparents sacrificed to make sure you could succeed. But then they thought
bigger than that. They thought about
their neighborhood, they thought about
their community, they thought about
their country. Now — Audience Member:
The planet. The President:
They thought about the planet. And now it’s our turn
to be responsible. It’s our turn to keep
that promise alive. And no matter how tough
these times have been, no matter how many obstacles
that may stand in our way, I promise you, North Carolina,
there are better days ahead. (applause) We will emerge stronger
than we were before. Because I believe in you. I believe in your future. I believe in the investment
you’re making right here at North Carolina. (applause) That tells me that you share
my faith in America’s future. And that’s what drives me
every single day — your hopes, your dreams. And I’m not quitting
now because, in America, we don’t quit. (applause) We get each other’s backs. We help each other get ahead. And if we work together, we’ll
remind the world just why it is that America’s the
greatest nation on Earth. (applause) Thank you, everybody.
God bless you. God bless America. (applause)

Paul Whisler

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