Oct 262011
Authors: Allison Sylte

DENVER– During a stop in Denver on Wednesday, President Barack Obama unveiled a plan that he said will help ease the burden of federal student loans on some Americans as early as next year.
“We want you in school,” Obama said to a sold-out crowd of Auraria Campus students and faculty. “But we shouldn’t saddle you with debt when you’re starting off.”

Obama announced that starting in 2012 rather than 2014, as stated in an earlier loan relief program, student loan payments will be capped at 10 percent of a borrower’s discretionary income per month, and any remaining balance will be forgiven after 20 years.

In addition, starting in January, students can consolidate their private and federal loans to obtain lower interest rates, a change that would impact six million Americans. College students currently graduate with an average of $24,000 in debt.

Members of the CSU College Republicans are skeptical about the effectiveness of the new developments.

“When you get the government involved in lending programs, it devalues those programs,” said Alex Higgins, the CSU College Republicans president and chair of the Rocky Mountain Student Media Corporation Board of Directors. “If colleges see more demand for loans, they may raise their tuition more, which I don’t think is what Obama wants.”

The student loan action does not need congressional approval, a move in line with what Obama said was part of his effort to assess, “what we can do without Congress,” in wake of a large partisan divide within Washington.

“We can’t wait for Congress to do its job,” Obama said. “So if they won’t act, I will.”

Obama said the loan initiative is something close to his heart, given that he and his wife, Michelle Obama, graduated from law school with $120,000 worth of loans between them.

“We were paying more for our student loans than we paid on our mortgage each month,” Obama said, adding that it ultimately took them 10 years to pay off their debt.

Obama’s remarks were part of a two-day visit to Denver, his second in four weeks. Four thousand tickets were handed out to students and faculty of the Auraria Campus’ three colleges: The Community College of Denver, Metropolitan State University and the University of Colorado-Denver.

And despite freezing temperatures and snowfall, students lined up in the early hours of the morning for seats in the Events Center for Obama’s remarks, even after many waited in line since as early as 4 a.m. the day before just to obtain tickets.

For some attendees, it was about supporting the president and hearing what he has to say.
“I think he genuinely cares about young people, that’s why he’s here,” said Kelsey Martinez, a sophomore at Metro State.

For others, it was simply bragging rights.

“It’s all about the Facebook pictures,” said Robert Nieves, a 24-year-old student at Metro State.

While 4,000 tickets were distributed, the address was overbooked, and some ticketholders were turned away.

“It sucks,” said Jorge Lamas, a student at the Community College of Denver who waited in line at 4:50 a.m. Tuesday to get a ticket only to be turned away at the door at 9 a.m. “I wanted to see him. It’s a historic event.

Following his speech, many attendees said they were satisfied with Obama’s message.

“I think he’s going to win back some liberal support by trying to do things without Congress,” said Sarah Sargeant, a senior at CU-Denver. “And student loan reform is something very important to me.”

“All of the comments we’ve heard from young people today have been so positive, which is good to hear,” said Connie Dotson, a 65-year-old Obama supporter who attended the address.

But Higgins and Brad Dick, the vice president of the CSU College Republicans, said they were skeptical about Obama’s intentions in coming to Denver.

“It was a campaign stop. That’s it,” Dick said.

Obama won Colorado in the 2008 election, and received his presidential nomination at the Democratic National Convention in Denver. However, for the past two years, his approval rating in Colorado has consistently sagged below 50 percent, according to Gallup polls.

In 2008, Obama was only the second democratic presidential candidate in 40 years to win Colorado’s electoral votes.

“I have some pretty good memories about Denver… so coming here gets me fired up,” Obama said at the beginning of his address.

“I want you back, Colorado,” he later said.

Content Managing Editor Allison Sylte can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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