In Denver, Obama Announces Help With Student Loans

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President Barack Obama made his second appearance at a Denver school in less than a month Wednesday. This time he was at the University of Colorado, Denver. And he used the occasion to announce new measures aimed at helping ease the burden of college loans. Colorado Public Radio’s Ben Markus was there and has this report.

Reporter Ben Markus: Thousands of students braved the snow to hear the president speak -- waiting in long lines outside an auditorium at CU Denver’s downtown campus. Inside, Mr Obama recounted his own story of student loans. He said he and Mrs Obama racked up $120,000 in college debt.

President Barack Obama: Look, obviously we were lucky to have gotten a great education, we were able to land good jobs, with a steady income, but it still took us almost 10 years to finally pay off all our student debt.

Reporter: To help students now, the president outlined two key changes to the system he says don’t need congressional approval. First, after graduating, students will be required to pay less per month based on their income. And second, they can now consolidate debt into a single student loan with a lower interest rate. The changes, Mr Obama said, would help millions of people.

Obama: That means you will be more confident and comfortable to buy a house, or save for retirement, and that will give our economy a boost at a time when it desperately needs it.

Reporter: Some in the education community had mixed feelings about the President’s plan. Especially allowing the consolidation of student loans. Cindy Hejl, director of financial aid at Metro State College, said the president’s plan will benefit some students.

Cindy Hejl: Instead of making two separate payments, one for private loans and one for direct loans, that they could actually just make one payment after they leave school. That could be very appealing to students.

Reporter: But she’s worried that students could acquire additional loans knowing that later they can just consolidate them. And she says students could be left holding the bag if the policy changes. Back at CU Denver’s campus, students file out of the auditorium after the speech. Elise Seehausen is a senior at nearby Metro State. She says she has about $25,000 in student debt.

Elise Seehausen: I do have student debt myself, and I would really like to see it reduced so I’m glad this is taking place.

Reporter: If $25,000 seems like a lot consider Jonathan Keeney a CU Denver grad student in neuroscience. He’s accumulated $60,000 in loans.

Jonathan Keeney: Yeah I have a tremendous amount of student debt.

Reporter: These students aren’t alone. U-S student loans now total more than a trillion dollars. And that number will surely go up as public schools in particular raise tuition due to state budget deficits. In Colorado, tuition hikes have ranged from 9 percent at CU-Boulder to 22 percent at Metro State this year. Keeney said he wants to eventually be a professor. And he hopes the president’s plan will reduce the burden of all his debt.

Keeney: It’s a lot, and it’s going to make life hard sometimes, I know that. But it’s absolutely worth it, and I think this is going to make it a lot easier, so this is definitely good news.

Reporter: Metro State freshman Stephanie Hooper hasn’t taken out any student loans yet. But she knows she’ll eventually have to -- and that worries her.

Stephanie Hooper: Yeah, it does, but I don’t want to put my education on the back burner.

Reporter: So she says she’ll live with the debt. Obama says his plan will go into effect next year. But state Republicans say it’s just another Democratic gimmick. And they call Mr Obama’s Denver visit a taxpayer-funded campaign stop.

[Photo: CPR/Ben Markus]