Apr 242012
Authors: Allison Sylte and Erin Udell

For some, the American dream is just that: a dream.

But, according to President Barack Obama, who made a stop at CU-Boulder Tuesday evening, this dream of working hard and reaping the benefits should be a reality.

“I want this forever to be a country where everybody gets a fair shot,” Obama said.

Boulder was the second stop of the president’s three-campus tour, which was aimed at garnering student support and urging Congress to make sure the interest rates of Stafford student loans won’t double from 3.4 to 6.8 percent overnight on July 1.

According to Sandra Calhoun, the director of Student Financial Services, more than 10,000 undergraduates at CSU have borrowed Stafford loans. Of these, 8,029 students have their interest subsidized by the federal government and would be affected by the potential rate increase.

Students’ prior loans will retain the interest rate that was applicable at the time of borrowing, though if they decide to take out a loan for another academic year, the new rate will cause students to rack up almost $1,000 of additional debt each year.

Associated Students of CSU President Eric Berlinberg, who attended Obama’s speech, said the most important message he took away was that of student involvement and empowerment.

“It’s definitely something we, as students, have a power to change,” Berlinberg said, adding that he hopes ASCSU will eventually endorse Obama’s efforts to make college more affordable and launch marketing efforts to get students involved.

In an effort to garner student support, the White House also recently launched a social media campaign centered around the hashtag #DontDoubleMyRate, which was trending worldwide after Obama’s stop at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill earlier in the day.

According to a report by the Denver Post, it costs roughly $6 billion a year for more than 7 million students to keep the lower interest rate. Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Yuma, told the Denver Post that he is still evaluating whether to support the House Democrat version of the bill now.

Lines of students and community members waiting to hear the president weaved throughout campus Tuesday, forming as early as 3 a.m. And while most students, like freshman Onjira (Bo) Sriphaiboon, came so they could see a standing president, they left realizing that Obama, in some ways, wasn’t much different than they were.

“We [Michelle and I] finished paying off student loans eight years ago,” Obama said. “Think about it… I’m the president of the United States…”

While most members of the crowd responded enthusiastically to Obama’s message, CU senior physics major John Demopoulos stood beside the lines of supporters holding a poster in protest of the president’s policies.

“He’s clearly making an effort to mobilize youth,” Demopoulos said. “He’s playing off that valuable passion.

“On the mainstream level, it’s important people seek info and know what Obama is doing versus saying,” he added. “He’s not fulfilling his promises as far as transparency and representing the Constitution.”

On average, students graduate with roughly $25,000 in debt. According to a recent report by CNN, 53 percent of recent college graduates are either unemployed or underemployed, a figure that rises to 60 percent in the Mountain West. In the U.S., student loan debt now exceeds credit card debt, something Obama said was detrimental to the economy.

“Living with this kind of debt means making some pretty tough decisions when you’re first starting out,” Obama said, adding that his and his wife’s student loan debt exceeded the mortgage for their first condo in Chicago.

While he said reducing student loan debt was a good first step, he added that it comes with a caveat: To fix higher education, student debt is only a fraction of the overall issue.

The cost of tuition at colleges and universities across the country has doubled in the past decade, he said, something that has made higher education accessibility more difficult for the middle class, and something that can’t merely be solved on a federal level.

“We can’t keep on subsidizing skyrocketing tuition, or we’re just going to run out of money,” he said, adding that states have a responsibility to keep tuition costs low. Citing declining funding from the state of Colorado, CSU hiked its tuition 20 percent last year.

“… I’m only standing here today because of scholarships and student loans,” Obama said. “It wasn’t just that we worked hard. It’s that someone made an investment in us.”

News Editor Erin Udell and Content Managing Editor Allison Sylte can be reached at news@collegian.com

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