Students at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill had the opportunity of a lifetime last Tuesday when President Barack Obama delivered an address on UNC-CH’s campus.
Obama’s campus visit was part of a college tour campaign trip that also included lectures at the University of Iowa and the University of Colorado at Boulder.
Besides the fact that North Carolina is a swing state in the 2012 election, Obama has also become particularly involved with North Carolina state politics through his recent opposition of the proposed Amendment One to North Carolina’s state constitution.
However, the main theme of Obama’s 30-minute speech was federal student loans for college students.
“Obama spoke about a current issue to the people who have the largest stake in this policy,” said Chester Bissell, a sophomore economics major at UNC-CH.
“He made the point that we are the main lobbying group who should be in contact with Washington about student loans.”
Education is one of Obama’s primary focuses in his 2012 presidential campaign, and he stressed that higher education — affordable higher education — should be available to students across the nation.
As part of his campaign, Obama is working to extend legislation that lowers interest rates on federal Stafford student loans. If the legislation were not extended, the Stafford loan interest rate, which is currently at 3.4%, will double.
“This is not a Democratic or a Republican issue,” Obama said. “It’s an American issue.”
The bill in question, the College Cost Reduction and Access Act, passed in 2007 but has become more controversial due to its cost to the federal government. Since Obama’s speech on Tuesday, the House approved the bill to maintain low interest rates on Stafford loans, but the Senate has yet to vote on the bill.
“Extending the policy of student loans is definitely in our interest as current students who will one day have to pay off our debt under a higher interest rate,” Bissell said. “I hope Obama comes back and is able to tell us that we were successful with our efforts.”
In addition to discussing loans, Obama also said that colleges and universities across the nation should strive to keep tuition costs low so that higher education is an option for as many students as possible.
Aside from the important discussion of student loans, Obama’s lecture wasn’t all his visit had to offer.
After he delivered his speech, Obama appeared as a guest on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. But instead of being taped at NBC’s studios in New York, as Late Night usually is, Tuesday’s episode was taped on UNC-CH’s campus, with UNC-CH seniors as the audience members.
In addition to being present at the episode’s taping, the seniors who received tickets also saw the Dave Matthews Band perform live on the show.
Because of security regulations and scheduling, students could only attend one event with Obama. For seniors who were able to get a Late Night ticket, though, there wasn’t much of a choice.
“Despite it being a cold day for the South, I waited in line for three hours to get a Late Night ticket,” said Kristen Coconis, a senior psychology major at UNC-CH.
“I could have gotten a ticket to the president’s speech in minutes, but if I was going to skip my last class at UNC to hear about the importance of education, I wanted to get as much out of it as possible,” she added.
“Writing for SNL is my dream job, so I think seeing Jimmy Fallon especially appealed to me. Seeing him interview President Obama was surreal,” Coconis said. “I still can’t wrap my mind around my luck.”
In Tuesday’s episode of Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, Obama famously “slow jammed the news” reiterating his previous statements about increased interest rates on Stafford student loans.
Fallon also interviewed Obama about his collegiate experience as well as his presidential duties. Obama repeated what he said about his own loans during his lecture, which was that he and Michelle Obama finished paying off their student loans from Harvard Law School just eight years ago.
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