President talks college affordability at UNC

In his first official White House visit to Carolina, President Barack Obama focused on college affordability and the plight of students who rely on federal loans to finance their education during remarks to an enthusiastic crowd at Carmichael Arena Tuesday on April 24.

See a slideshow of visit.

Acknowledging the “serious hoops history” of the historic venue, home of the Lady Tar Heels, early in his speech, Obama said, “I want to remind you right off the bat I picked UNC to win it all. And if Kendall hadn’t gotten hurt, who knows where we might have been?”

But the president quickly came to the policy part of his speech, keeping college affordable. “Higher education is the single most important investment you can make in your future,” he told the audience – mostly standing – of about 8,000. “In today’s economy, there is no greater predictor of economic success than a good education.”

He praised campuses that try to keep tuition low and said the federal government should reward them with more federal aid. (Read UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Holden Thorp’s assessment of the President’s comments on affordability and other subjects.)

President Obama’s current priority is keeping the interest rate on Federal Direct Loans (also known as Stafford Loans) at 3.4 percent. On July 1, if Congress takes no action, the rate will automatically double to 6.8 percent. The increase would cost students with federal loans an average of $1,000 extra. (At Carolina, in the 2010-2011 academic year, 5,471 undergraduate students received Federal Direct Loans. )

Obama said the average college graduate with student loans already accumulates about $25,000 in debt. (At Carolina, the average cumulative debt was $15,472 for 2011 graduates with student loans. Measured in constant dollars, adjusted for inflation, the average cumulative debt for 2011 UNC graduates was $2,525 less than the average cumulative debt for those who graduated over a decade ago.)

Student loan debt is something the president said he and First Lady Michelle Obama know about first hand.

“We only finished paying off our student loans – check this out – and I’m the president of the United States,” he said, interrupted by laughter in the audience. “We only finished paying off our student loans eight years ago.”

See the White House video of the event and briefing for additional details.

Published April 24, 2012.