Obama addresses student debt

(Graphic by Autumn Mariano)

Tuesday afternoon, social media users asked President Barack Obama questions about skyrocketing tuition costs and rising student debt.

The social media site Tumblr solicited questions from its users prior to the event and selected questions for the President. The White House streamed the event over the website.

The average college student ends their 4-year degree with $30,000 of debt. It is estimated that nationwide the total amount of student debt has reached $1 trillion.

Weber State University students graduate with an average of $9,000 in debt according the US Department of Education. Even though WSU is lower than national average, the Board of Regents raised tuition by 4 percent, leading to concerns about skyrocketing tuition rates and increases in student debt.

“The main reason tuition has gone up so much is state legislatures have stopped subsiding public universities as much as they used to, in part because they started spending money on things like prisons and other activities that I think are less productive,” said Obama.

In 2011, the United States passed a law capping loan repayment at 10 percent of one’s income. However this law only applied to loans to taken out after 2011.

On Monday, President Obama signed an executive order to get the Department of Education to make rules to apply the law retroactively as well. Obama said he hopes to have the rules in place by the end of next year.

One Tumblr user asked a question about how some universities seem to encourage more debt. Obama talked about what he called “Know what you owe,” which requires universities to do counseling on the front end rather than at their exit interview, the point at which a student finishes college.

“Universities don’t always counsel people the way they should, they say ‘Don’t worry about it, you can pay for it’,” Obama said.

Obama said students need to be better consumers of their education. He pointed out that on the Department of Education’s website a student can see graduation rates, average debt and even the rates of employment.

He added that they are working on a ranking system that would be different from the traditional ranking system, which seems to see high cost as a sign of prestige.

“There may be some great schools that are expensive, but what are missing is great schools that may be a better value, particularly in the field you’re in,” said Obama.

Obama pitched the bill sponsored by Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren to allow to students to refinance their loans at current rates. Obama called on the audience to contact their senators and congressmen and find out where they stand on this issue.

The senate defeated Warren’s bill by a vote of 58-36 on Wednesday. Both senators from Utah voted against the measure.

Matt Harakal, the communications director for Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch said that while Hatch wants to fix the student debt problem, he was concerned about the way the bill was being funded by raising taxes on the wealthy, and didn’t think Warren’s bill was the best way to solve the problem.

Utah Sen. Mike Lee in said a statement, “The democrats’ proposal focuses on the symptoms rather than the underlying dysfunction of the higher education system. It does nothing to reduce the inflated costs of higher education and only treats the surface of a deep and complex problem.”

He pointed to his own proposal, the “Higher Education Reform and Opportunity Act” which would give states more control over accreditation of higher education. Lee believes his proposal would greatly expand college opportunity for lower and middle-class families.