"I went to college having to take out student loans, went to law school having to take out student loans. Michelle took out student loans. When we got married, I think together our total loan payments every month was more than our mortgage when we bought a house, and that lasted for about 10 years. And I meet students - I think the average student is taking out $25,000 to $30,000. That's a huge burden, especially in a time when wages and income are not going up. So here is what we want to do: increase the Pell Grant program, eliminate banks as middlemen from the direct loan program - they're taking out billions of dollars in profits - take that money, apply that to increasing the number of loans that are out there and reducing the rates, and then what I want to do is provide a $4,000 tuition credit for every student, every year, in exchange for national service. If they participate in Peace Corps, working in their community in some fashion, obviously joining the military. We are going to make sure that they can afford their college tuition. And in certain areas, like teaching, where we really need teachers, especially in math and science, and nursing, where we really need nurses, we will potentially provide them with even more than that in order to get the high-quality teachers and nurses that we really need."
Asked about relief for graduates who have already accumulated student loan debt and are realizing it's no pink tea, "As I said, what we are looking at potentially is being able to consolidate some of the loans, and if they are part of a broader pool, we may be able to lower interest rates on the debt that they already owe. But the key is going to be going forward, making sure that young people in the future are able to afford to go to college."
Obama has some good ideas for improving the situation facing college students dealing with soaring costs, a tight lending environment and parents with decimated retirement portfolios. But ultimately, any long-term solution to the problem will have to come from parents and students saying no to huge student loans, and making the sacrifices necessary to avoid debt: like starting a community college while working full-time and saving before transferring.