Speaking to a raucous crowd of thousands at the University of Colorado Denver Wednesday, President Barack Obama unveiled plans to relieve the often crushing burden of student loan debt on up to 1.6 million people.
“We can’t wait for Congress to do its job so if they won’t, I will,” Obama declared to the cheering audience of students and supporters jammed into the events center on the Auraria Campus. “Over the last three decades the cost of college has tripled. The average students now owes $24,000.”
His plan would reduce the maximum repayment of student loans from 15 percent of discretionary income each year to 10 percent. It would also consolidate payments into just one loan. The initiative, which Obama will enact using his executive authority, could go into effect next year.
“I have been in your shoes,” Obama said. “Michelle and I don’t come from wealthy families. When we graduated law school we had a combined debt of over $120,000. It took us about ten years to pay off that student debt.”
Obama said his plan would reduce the monthly loan payments of 1.6 million people. Aside from mortgages, student loans now represent the chief source of debt for American families.
The president’s words were well received by the audience, many of whom spent hours in the snow waiting to get inside to hear him speak. Mahala Greer, a CU Denver senior who introduced Obama, told the crowd that she had accumulated $30,000 in student loan debt.
Her education may have been “invaluable,” she said, but it “still had a very real price tag.”
A report from the College Board this week said the national cost of college for a full-time students now exceeds $8,000 a year, the highest ever recorded.
Obama has been crisscrossing the country trying to sell policies he hopes will jumpstart a sagging economy. In Las Vegas, he recently urged banks to allow homeowners whose houses are worth less than they owe to refinance at lower interest rates. And in Denver Wednesday he took on Republicans who he says are blocking his efforts, including opposing his new jobs bill.
“How do you say no to creating jobs when so many people are out of work?” he asked. “I want you all to communicate to Congress, to get the word out. To call and tweet them. Tell them to support this and not to just play politics.”
Obama said students today are coming of age at a time of profound change.
“Globalization has made the world much more competitive,” he said. “But the fact that you are going to college and making an investment in your future means that you still believe in America. You inspire me.”
The audience, many packed tightly together on the hardwood floor, cheered and yelled `Obama’ throughout the speech. There were scattered `boos’ when he mentioned the Republicans.
The president took the opportunity to single out Colorado Democratic Senators Michael Bennet and Mark Udall for praise along with Governor John Hickenlooper.
“You guys in Colorado have a good eye for talent,” he said.