Obama campaign discusses student debt

Actor Kal Penn said the president is fighting for students.

As college affordability becomes a growing issue for students nationwide, the Obama administration made it clear this week it is working to fix what it sees as a major economic problem.

Valeisha Butterfield-Jones, the director of Obama for America National Youth Vote, and Kal Penn, former associate director for the White House Office of Public Engagement, discussed college affordability and the upcoming presidential election in a conference call Wednesday.

Jones said the Obama campaign is also holding a “Pledge to Reg” program to help encourage college voters to register to vote.

“We need to make sure the choices and the voices of young Americans are heard because this election presents (decisions) that will affect students in the short and the long term,” Jones said. “The (actions) of those in Washington might seem like a world away from life on campus, but we have an interest in your future.”

“President Obama’s priority on young Americans speaks to his belief that America succeeds only when we’re all in this together,” Jones said.

Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., also participated in the conference call and talked about Obama’s tour of college campuses this week, including his stop at the University of Colorado-Boulder.

“The message in all these places was the same,” Bennet said. “Keeping college affordable is a critical part of the president’s blueprint for an economy that is built to last. One that prepares Americans for the jobs of the future, restores middle class security and rewards hard work and responsibility.”

Bennet said the lowest point for the unemployment rate during the recession was 4.5 percent for workers with college degrees.

Before running for Senate, Bennet worked as school superintendent of Denver Public Schools.

“We’ve known for a long time that a college education is critical to being able to not just protect yourself in a downturn but to achieve great things when the economy is moving up,” Bennet said.

On average, students today who take out loans owe more than $25,000 in student loans, Bennett said. If Congress fails to act, the interest rate on student loans is set to double July 1.

“That’s why President Obama is speaking to young people across the country,” Bennet said. “To urge Congress to prevent this hike at a time when Americans are more in student loan (debt) than credit card (debt), keeping student interest rates low will help more Americans get a fair shot at an affordable college education and the skills they need to find a good job.”

Penn, famous for his roles in films like the "Harold and Kumar" series and his appearances on television shows like "House" and "How I Met Your Mother," worked for the Obama administration until January 2011. He is now traveling with the Obama campaign to help get the vote out to youth voters and college students.

During the conference call, Penn talked about how the president is standing up for young people in the middle class.

During his time in office, Obama enacted student law reform that removed major banks from being the middlemen in the lending industry while also doubling federal funding for the Pell Grant program, allowing an additional 3.7 million students to receive financial aid.

“We can’t stop there,” Penn said. “The call to action can’t just stop with bill he was discussing.”

Penn said Obama has also created the American Opportunity tax credit to help middle class families as well as to cap student loan payment at 10 percent of monthly income.

“The president really believes in young people,” Penn said. “This is something I saw time and time again when I had the great honor of working for him. He hears you guys, he has your backs.”

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