President Obama Announces the Student Aid Bill of Rights
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President Obama Announces the Student Aid Bill of Rights

August 23, 2019

(applause) The President:
Hello, Atlanta! (applause) Hello, Yellow Jackets! (applause) That’s a pretty good
looking crowd here! Audience Member: Thank you. The President: Thank you. I wasn’t directing it
specifically at you, but you do look
pretty good. What do you think? I may not be
the best gauge. You should ask some
of the ladies here. Everybody have a seat
who’s got a chair. If you don’t have a
chair, don’t sit down. (laughter) I understand George T.
Burdell was supposed to introduce me today,
but be nobody could find him, (applause) so I want to thank
Tiffany for stepping in. What she did not mention is
that her letter to me was not just to express her
concern about student loans. She said in her letter —
she said it was also to procrastinate from doing her
thermal dynamic homework. (laughter) That’s a true story. (applause) That is true. It’s okay. I procrastinate
sometimes. As long as you got
it done, Tiffany. Where’s Tiffany? Did you get it done? Tiffany Davis: I did! The President: Okay. Let’s give it up for Buzz
and the Georgia Tech band the band for getting
us fired up. (applause) Also give it up for Governor
Nathan Deal, who’s here — (applause) — Congressmen Hank
Johnson and David Scott — (applause) — Atlanta Mayor
Kasim Reed, (applause) and the president of
this great institution, Georgia Tech,
Bud Peterson. (applause) That’s good. You’ve got a high
approval rating. (laughter) You do. Absolutely. All right. We also have a
special guest with us. This is a proud Georgia
Tech alum who just happens also to be
the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,
Admiral Sandy Winnefeld is here. (applause) Before he was the vice chairman
of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he was a navy fighter
pilot, which is cooler. Now, he just goes
to meetings. (laughter) What’s up with that? I told him he’s got to
get back on a plane. It is great to be at one
of the finest technical institutes
in the world — (applause) — one of the
finest in the world. I mean, you’ve got to be —
the Ramblin’ Wreck is still running after
all these years. (applause) Is that it? That’s a Georgia Tech
reference that some of you may not know about. I also know that Georgia tech
is terrific because we’ve actually worked with
you on several fronts, from promoting advanced
manufacturing, to unlocking the
mysteries of the brain, to helping more students
become entrepreneurs, and the reason I wanted to
come here today is because I believe that higher
education, as you believe, is one of the best
investments that anybody could make in
their future. And it’s also one of
the best investments you can make in our
country’s future. So, I’m here to say thank
you and to tell you I’m proud of you because I
know it’s not always easy to do what you’re doing. It takes perseverance, a lot
of late nights in the library and the lab, and you’re
wrapping your minds around complex formulas and
concepts that, frankly, I don’t understand. (laughter) But I know they’re complex. And some of you are holding
jobs down at the same time, which makes it even harder. But as frustrating as it may
be, and Tiffany expressed some frustrations on
occasion, it is worth it. Higher education has
never been more important. And the message I want to
deliver today, not just to you, but the entire
country, is the entire nation has to treat it
as a priority. Right now our economy
is growing steadily; it’s creating new jobs;
you’re going to be going into a job market that’s much
better than the one that existed when I came into
office six years ago. (applause) After the worst economic
crisis of our lifetimes, over the past five
years, our businesses have now created 12
million new jobs. Unemployment continues to
come down, and obviously, that’s good news for those
of you graduating soon. Yeah, that’s right;
you want a job. (applause) Your parents also want
you to have a job. They don’t want
you on the couch. But I didn’t run for
president just to get us back to where
we were — I ran for president to get us
where we need to go. (applause) Where we need to go is a
growing middle class with rising incomes and
opportunities for everybody who’s willing to
work hard. In America, no matter
who you are, what you look like, where
you came from, how you started, who you love,
what faith you’re part of, you can make it in this
country if you try. That’s what America
is all about. And today, a college degree
is the surest ticket to the middle class
and beyond. It’s the key to getting a good
job that pays a good income. And it offers a measure of
security because a college degree tells employers that
you don’t just have one set of skills, that you’ve got
the continuous capacity to learn new skills, which is
particularly important for your generation because the
economy is going to turn and change in ways none of
us could anticipate. Before I came out here, I
was talking to a group including Sandy Winnefeld,
your mayor, Kasim Reed, Tyler Perry who — he wasn’t
in Madea; he was Tyler. (laughter) And we were talking about how
rapidly the technology is transforming everything we
understand, everything we know, everything from drones to
artificial intelligence to driverless cars, and we
don’t yet know how all that is going to shape the
nation that you inherit, but we know it’s going
to shape it dramatically. And in order for you
to be successful, you’re going to have
to adapt continuously. The days where you work at
one place for 30, 40 years, those days are over. And so, the skill sets you are
getting now are going to keep you in that job market. You’re going to have multiple
jobs before you’re 30. Some of you will have
multiple careers, and we live in a 21st century
economy where your most valuable asset is your
imagination, your knowledge, your ability to
analyze tough problems, and that’s not just true
for individual Americans; it’s true for our whole country. The ability to compete in the
global economy depends on us having the world’s most skilled,
best educated workforce. And by the way, let me just
add, it’s also going to be critical for us to
maintain our democracy in a complex,
diverse society. Because — (applause) — understandably, when I
come to college campuses, there’s a lot of this bread
and butter, nuts and bolts, how does this translate
into jobs and careers? But part of what has made
America the exceptional nation that it is, is our diversity
and our ability to draw, from every corner of the
world, all the talent, all the ideas, and create
this amazing stew. The more complex society,
the tougher that becomes. So, to have all of you
possess the ability to listen and to learn from people
who aren’t like you, that’s also what
you’re learning here. And that’s going to make
you more effective to every employer
out there. So — (applause) But it’s also going to
make you better citizens, and it’s going to make our
democracy function better. But back to the
jobs thing. Jobs and businesses will go
wherever the best workers are. And I don’t want them to
have to look any further than the United
States of America. I want businesses
investing here; I want Americans
getting those new jobs. That’s how we’re going
to lead the world in this century just like
we did in the 20th century. (applause) So, here’s the challenge. Higher education has
never been more important, but it’s also never
been more expensive. The average undergrad borrows
money to pay for college, graduates with about $28,000
in student loan debt. That’s just the average. Some students end up with
a lot more than that. You know who you are. (laughter) I’m not telling you
anything you don’t know. And let me say that it’s
been established time and time again that
Georgia Tech is one of the best
bargains around. You are getting a great
education at a great college — (applause) — which is one of
the reasons I’m here. Obviously, I wouldn’t go to
a place that was a bad bargain, really expensive,
and gave no value. That would not
make sense. But even here at
Georgia Tech, even with the great value it
is, it’s expensive. And I’m here to tell
you I’m with you. I believe that America is
not a place where higher education is a privilege that
is reserved for the few. America needs to be a place
where higher education has to be available for every
single person who’s willing to strive for it, who’s
willing to work for it. (applause) And I said this before;
I take this personally. And my grandfather had a chance
to go to college because this country decided that when
veterans returned home from World War II, they should be
able to go on to college. And this government
stepped up. My mother was able to raise two
kids by herself in part because she got grants that helped
pay for her education. And I’m only standing here —
Michelle is only where she is today because
of scholarships and student loans
and work study. We did not come from
families of means. (applause) We didn’t come from
families of means, but we knew that
if we worked hard, there was help out there
to make sure we got a great education. That’s what this
country gave to us. And that’s why this has been
such a priority for me. I take it personally
because when I look out at all of
you, I see myself. And I remember the fact
that it took me 10 years to pay off all our
student loans. We were paying more for
our student loans than our mortgage, even after Malia
and Sasha were born; we were supposed to be
saving for their education; we were still
paying off ours. That’s why we’ve acted
again and again to make college more affordable. Five years ago this month, we
enacted the largest reforms to the student loan
program in history. We cut out — we cut out the
big banks that were taking taxpayer dollars and serving
as middlemen in the student loan game, and we said,
“Well, let’s just give the money directly to
the students like you.” So — (applause) So, as a result of that
change, we saved billions of dollars, we were able
to expand tax credits and Pell Grants;
and put college within reach for millions
more, middle class and low income students
across the country. Then we fought to
keep interest rates on student loans
low and capped how high those rates can
rise, and as a result, the typical undergrad
is saving about $1,500. We also acted to let millions
of graduates cap their loan payments at 10
percent of their incomes, so they don’t have to choose
between paying the rent and paying back their debt. (applause) And by the way, everybody
here, if you don’t already know about the income-based
repayment program, you need to learn about
it because it’s still underutilized, but it
gives you an opportunity to make sure that if you
make a career choice that doesn’t make tons of
money, you’re still able to do the responsible
thing and pay back your loans at a pace that also
allows you to build a family, buy a home, and
live your lives. And graduates who go into
lower-paying fields like social work or teaching,
they’re not going to pay a price for following their
dreams because they’re going to have even
better options in terms of how they repay
their loans. (applause) So, that’s what we did
on the student loan side. Meanwhile, we’re working
to hold down the cost of a college education,
so we’re partnering with schools like Georgia Tech on
innovative ways to increase value like your online
master’s degree program in computer science — (applause) — which cost just a
fraction of the price of a classroom program. And I sent Congress a bold
new plan to bring down the cost of community
college to zero because not everybody — not
everybody may be prepared right away to start a
four-year university, but also, in some cases,
even if they could, they may choose to get two
years of college free and then be able to transfer
the credits for their four-year education. We want to make community
college, at minimum, just as free and universal
as high school is today. That should be
our new baseline. We want to get out ahead
of the curve in terms of where we need to go. (applause) Earlier today, I took a new
action to make it easier for students to pay for college
and pay off their loans. We’re creating a way for you to
ask questions about your loans, file a complaint, cut
through the bureaucracy, get a faster response
that’s not just from the government;
that’s also from the contractors, who
sometimes service your loans. We’re going to require that
the businesses that service your loans provide clear
information about how much you owe, what your options
are for repaying it, and if you’re falling behind,
help you get back in good standing with reasonable fees
on a reasonable timeline, and if you’re paying stuff
off, you should be paying off the high-interest loans first,
not the low-interest ones. We’re going to take a hard
look at whether we need new laws to strengthen
protections for all borrowers, wherever you
get your loans from, so we’re trying to tackle this
problem from every angle. There’s no silver bullet, but
we’re trying to make sure, across the board, more and
more people can afford to go to college and,
afterwards, aren’t so burdened with debt that you
can’t do anything else. We want to make this
experience more affordable because you’re not just
investing in yourselves; you’re investing
in your nation. But — (applause) — but here’s the thing. We’ve got more to do. All of us: universities,
students, parents, financial institutions,
and, yes, the government, to make sure that you’re
not saddled with debt before you can
get started in life. That’s something that’s
in all of our interests. Now, my friends, the
republicans in Congress, are planning to unveil
their budget soon. I’m hoping they have something
to offer that will help hard-working young people. So far, the education bill
that they put forward a couple weeks ago is not
a good template; it’s not a good start. I’m hoping it will
improve because right now the way it’s structured, it
would let states and cities shuffle education dollars
into things like sports stadiums or tax cuts for the
wealthy instead of schools, and it would allow states
to make even deeper cuts in the school districts
that need the most support, send even more money
to the most well-off school districts; we’d invest
less per child by the end of the decade than
we do now, so it’s the wrong approach. We’ve got to be working
to make sure every child gets a quality education,
every student can afford college. (applause) And so, we’re going to
be reaching out to them, trying to get them to see
this is a good investment in our economy; it’s a
good investment in our national security. The way you keep America safe,
one of the best and most important ways, is make sure
we’ve got a strong economy with a strong workforce,
and all of us have a role to play in
making that happen. So, in order to spur
more of a conversation, to get more folks engaged,
we’re going to try something new to help do this. It’s not a fancy new program;
it doesn’t have a complicated acronym; it doesn’t involve
new spending or bureaucracy. It’s just a simple
organizing principle that I want all of
us to sign on to. A declaration of values. What I’m calling a student
aid bill of rights. A student aid
bill of rights. And it says every student
deserves access to a quality, affordable education. Every student should be able
to access the resources to pay for college. Every borrower has the right to
an affordable repayment plan. Every borrower has the right
to quality customer service, reliable information,
and fair treatment, even if they struggle
to repay their loans. It’s a simple set of
principles that if everybody’s signed on to
— republicans, democrats, state legislators, university
presidents, members of Congress — it can
focus our attention, all these different
things that we’re doing, into one simple, basic idea,
which is make sure that when you’re doing the right
thing that your society has got your back. And it’s looking
out for you. (applause) So, based on this principle,
we’re going to make sure universities are using
technology to help students learn at lower costs. We’re going to make sure that
loan services can find better ways to help borrowers keep
up with monthly payments that they can afford. We as a country can do more
to invest in Pell Grants and community college to
make sure a quality education is affordable
for everybody. So, we’re just going to keep
on moving on every front. And we want everybody who
agrees with these principles to sit down and work with
us and figure out how they can make these
student rights real. You’ve got a part
to play as well. You know, we had the great
honor of being in Selma this past weekend for the
50th anniversary of the march on Selma. (applause) And one of the main points I
think that all of us made was change doesn’t happen by
itself; it happens because people get organized and
mobilized and focus, and they push, and sometimes
they disrupt, and they make folks uncomfortable,
and they ask questions about, why is it this
way instead of that way? And I want us to think about
access to higher education and affordability of higher
education in that same way. I want us to all
organize together, not on a partisan basis;
it’s not organizing around an election; it’s organizing
around a simple idea that everybody should be
able to get behind. And you’re going to have to
play the part because what we also made the point of this
past weekend is young people typically lead the pack with
new ideas, with new initiatives, with new
focus, with a new vision. So, if you agree with the
basic values that I outlined, if you believe in a student
aid bill of rights that will help more Americans pay
for a quality education, then sign your name
to this declaration. You can go to a website
because you guys like tech stuff. (laughter) You go to
opportunity tell your families, and
classmates, and professors to do it. I’m going to ask members
of Congress, and lenders, and as many business leaders
as I can find to sign up. We’re going to mobilize a
coalition around this country to get this process moving
because there’s a lot of good ideas right now,
but they’re stalled, or they’re happening
piecemeal, or they’re happening at
one university, or they’re happening
in one state, and they have to
happen everywhere. We’ve got to mobilize the
entire nation to make that happen, and it’s going to
start with students themselves because if you aren’t asking
for something different, if you aren’t asking for
help, if you’re not getting mobilized, then folks
aren’t going to help you, and then you’ll
just be complaining, especially once you graduate,
and you start having to write those checks. So, don’t stop
engaging in this issue, even after you graduate because
you’ll be so impacted by it. And in the meantime, you’ve
got to study hard and work hard and have fun, make some
new discoveries, inspire us, lead us, be the Americans
that we need you to be. Every American should have
the right to go as far as their talent and hard
work will take them. That is what college
is all about. That is what America
is all about. And you embody
that basic notion. You are that talent. You’re an embodiment
of what we hope for, a country that says that
everybody, rich, poor, black, white, Hispanic, Asian,
gay, straight, man, woman, with disabilities, without, no matter
who you are, where you come from, not only can you
succeed, but you can help everybody else succeed. That’s the promise that
helps us become the greatest nation in the world. That’s the promise that
I need you working for. Thank you, everybody. God bless you. Thank you, Georgia.

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