October 26th, 2011
04:52 PM ET
DENVER (CNN)— More and more college students are facing tuition sticker shock. A new report by the College Board Advocacy & Policy Center shows the average cost of tuition and fees at four year institutions jumped to 8.3 percent this year. That’s more than twice the rate of inflation.
For many young people that translates into bigger loans and more debt at a time when it's hard to find a job after graduation.
Against that backdrop President Obama flew to Denver, Colorado to push a plan that he says could help 1.6 million people save hundreds of dollars a month.
“We should be doing everything we can to put college education within reach for every American,” the president said during a campaign style event on the Denver campus of the University of Colorado.
Rita Whittington, a special education major who jokingly feels she has already earned a degree in student loans, says it's a burden.
“I've taken out extensive loans. First I educated my children, three of them I sent to college,” she told CNN. “ So I have parent loans and now I have student loans. So this is extremely costly for me."
Antonio Valenzuela, a junior getting a degree in converging media, says debt is a way of life that he tries not to think about.
"Truthfully it's the silent killer because you actually never see the money its usually financial aid and things like that or loans that you take so you know kinda never having it tangibly in your hands makes it more a very difficult to conceptualize how much the debt is,” Valenzuela said.
President Obama says he’s attempting to lessen the shock and lighten the load without Congress.
"We can't wait for congress to do its job. So where they won't act I will," he said.
Explaining the details of a plan that was already in the works, the president said the repayment amount of a federal student loan will be limited to 10% of discretionary income, and the timeline for that to kick in has been moved up to next year.
In addition, after 20 years all debts will be forgiven, which is five years sooner than current rules allow.
The program will also make it easier to consolidate student loans.
But the president’s critics who have been painting his new “we can’t wait” slogan as “campaigning” and “saving his own job,” jumped on this latest effort.
"[T]he president has once again chosen to put politics before policy, touting a plan that will do nothing to help the nation’s unemployed workers," said the Republican chairman of the House committee on Education and the Workforce Rep. John Kline.
And in a statement, Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) said “The real way to reduce the burden of student loan debt is to slow down the growth of tuition.” Alexander suggested that could be done by reducing “health care costs and mandates that are soaking up state dollars,” that he argues could be used for education.
Whittington, who had been majoring in economics, says she’s cautiously optimistic that the plan will help students like her shoulder the burden. The process of running up debt is painful but necessary.
"I think it is good for us to put ourselves in a better place for the future, “ she said. “I think we’re a good investment in that we are working to get the education so that we can get into the job market at a higher level than we would without one.”
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