Home > Students > President Obama to Students: Be Smart, Not Cynical

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President Barack Obama joined David Karp, the founder of Tumblr, for a live chat about student debt Tuesday. One-third of Americans who applied for an educational loan this year also have a Tumblr account, said Karp, who fielded questions about educational costs submitted by Tumblr users. Here’s what POTUS had to say to today’s students.

My student debt was manageable, unlike yours.

Obama said that when he graduated with an undergraduate degree he was able to pay off his student loan debt in a year with a job that wasn’t particularly high paying. But today student loan balances average about $30,000.

It’s still a good investment.

College still continues to be a smart investment, Obama said. But we still need to lower the cost of college upfront, and make debt affordable for those who graduate with it, he said.

Students need to be smarter about school.

Obama suggested that high school kids need to explore career options before they head off to college, suggesting that it would help them avoid waste time and money in post-secondary school.

Later, he pointed out that “ultimately you are going to do best at something you care deeply about.” But he also said that “you still have to grind it out,” and there are times “when you are going to have to do something practical to pay the bills.”

More students will have better repayment options next year.

Referring to the executive order he signed to expand income-based repayment to all borrowers with federal loans, he said that all borrowers with federal loans should be eligible for IBR — not just those with more recent loans. He said it will take a while for this expansion to be finalized, but he expects it to happen by the end of next year. He also asked the Tumblr audience to spread the word about IBR.

A humanities education isn’t a dead end, but don’t overlook STEM.

A humanities education is fine, but “technology will drive innovation,” said Obama. He said we need to support programs that encourage math, science and technology education. And we can’t take all our math majors and steer them into finance jobs either.

There’s only so much we can do about private student loans.

When asked about private loans, he said that the White House simply doesn’t have a lot of leverage. “Legislatively and administratively we have some impact on federal loans,” he pointed out. But that’s not the case with loans that are originated in the private marketplace.

Borrowers need to speak up.

He encouraged Tumblr users to contact their senators to support legislation from Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), the Bank on Student Loans Emergency Refinancing Act, to allow wider refinancing of student loans.

We’re working on it.

Obama didn’t offer a clear solution for curbing the rising cost of college, which he blamed in part due to cutbacks on state funding, which is going toward things like prisons instead.

But he did encourage students to be smarter consumers, and told them to check out resources such as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s “Know Before You Owe” guide before college. He also recommended they visit the White House website to find information about college “scorecards” that he says should provide a more objective ranking system that weighs value for the cost.

Don’t become cynical.

The president wrapped up the discussion warning students not to get cynical. “Guard against cynicism … for all challenges we face … if you had to choose any moment to be born in human history … you’d choose this time.”

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