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Interest high at UNC campus for Obama loan talk

Posted April 22, 2012
Updated April 23, 2012

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— Supporters in Chapel Hill sought shelter from the rain under tents, blankets and umbrellas Sunday as they lined up for tickets to see President Barack Obama speak about student debt this week at the flagship public university of a state at the heart of this year's presidential election.

Obama visits the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on Tuesday and similar colleges in Colorado and Iowa as he woos young voters by taking about student loans and the rising cost of education. All three are in states Obama won in 2008 but which could go to the likely Republican nominee, Mitt Romney. The Obama campaign sees college-aged voters as a critical constituency.

"We have the power to change what happens in our country, and so the more we learn and the more we know about our candidates, the better prepared we'd be to go to the polls," UNC graduate student Carolina Clark said.

A line of students seeking tickets to hear Obama in Chapel Hill camped out overnight in front of the box office of the university's former basketball auditorium, where he'll speak. The line later snaked down the bleacher steps of the adjoining soccer stadium and curled along the running track encircling the field.

"People started lining up to wait for tickets last night, so it is evident that the student body is excited for him to come," said Anna Ollinger, a 19-year-old sophomore from Barrington, Ill., majoring in linguistics and Spanish. "Obviously, lower interest rates will have a huge impact on many students, so it's an issue that needs to be addressed."

Obama is in the midst of a push to get Congress to extend a law that cut interest rates on a popular federal loan program for low- and middle-income undergraduates. If the law expires, the rates on subsidized Stafford loans will double on July 1, from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent.

More than 7 million students would be financially squeezed if rates rose, to the cost of an additional $1,000 on average, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said Friday.

But the cost of keeping the interest rates frozen could run $6 billion a year.

UNC students line up for Obama tickets UNC students line up for Obama tickets

The president's visit comes two months after scores of angry students held a raucous protest as the University of North Carolina Board of Governors voted to increase tuition across the system of 16 university campuses by an average of nearly 9 percent, or over $400 a year.

The undergraduate North Carolina resident student currently pays an average tuition and fees of $5,294 a year, not including books and living expenses. It is higher at the system's two flagship schools, with UNC-Chapel Hill students paying $6,823 and North Carolina State University charging $6,964. Average annual tuition and fees at public four-year colleges in the U.S. rose 8 percent this year to $8,244 for in-state students, according to the College Board.

The North Carolina schools remain a bargain compared to other states. The University of Virginia charged new in-state students $11,794 for the 2011-12 academic year, while Penn State University charges underclassmen $15,100.

Perhaps because of the relatively low cost, only half of the 155,263 in-state undergraduates enrolled in the UNC system's schools took out federal student loans in the fall semester of 2010, the last period for which data is available. The 78,497 North Carolina-resident undergraduates borrowed a total of just under $254 million in federal loans, or an average of $3,236 per student.

Freshman David Ortiz, 18, of Potomac, Md., said he's among the lucky ones since he landed a scholarship that will allow him to graduate without borrowing. It's too early for most of his classmates to start worrying how they'll pay off loans after graduation, he said.

"It's not a huge issue that's dominant or looming over people's minds, but definitely I think it will always be an area of concern. Nobody wants to pay higher loans, that's for sure, but I think most people just don't understand extremely well how this will impact them," Ortiz said.

He said he's been watching some of the Republican primary debates and expects to pay increasing attention to the presidential campaign as the time for him to cast his first votes nears.

Obama campaign officials estimate about 8 million voters between the ages of 18 and 21 weren't old enough to vote in 2008 but could be swayed to support the president this time. Whether students will vote in large numbers for Obama again will depend on how their personal finances stack up against others since college graduates have faced high levels of unemployment.


Emery Dalesio can be reached at


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  • unaffiliated_voter Apr 24, 2012

    "College kids shouldn't even be allowed to vote." -podtalk

    If there's anyone that shouldn't be allowed to vote, it would be

    - those that don't understand math well enough to know that cutting taxes raises the deficit

    - those that think restricting the freedom of gay people to choose their partner is consistent with "all men are created equal" and the "limited government" that the GOP supposedly supports

    - those that think allowing people with pre-existing conditions to buy health insurance and allowing people that have one of the increasing number of jobs without benefits to buy cheaper insurance through a group plan is a horrible socialist thing that must not be allowed.

    I'm a moderate independent that doesn't like either party but I have to say that the Dem policies on most things these days are more reasonable than the GOP policies, some of which are just downright crazy.

  • GK N.Ral Apr 24, 2012

    The students expect Obama to cut tuition in half and forgive all student loans. It was easy to get the loans but now it is time to start paying them off. Welcome to the real world.

  • forautumn Apr 23, 2012

    "This is like a sexual predator offering candy to a 10 year old. Follow me and I will give you want you want."

    Well, besides your analogy being incredibly silly and classless, it would appear that there is more than one "sexual predator" out there.

    Funny stuff for the wingnuts.

    "I fully support the effort to extend the low interest rate on student loans," Romney said "

  • whatusay Apr 23, 2012

    Who says interest is high???? Is this another liberal news ad supporting Obama? I can't believe Obama is targeting young vulnerable 18-20 year olds who don't have a clue what he is doing to this country, giving them false hope, for their vote. This is like a sexual predator offering candy to a 10 year old. Follow me and I will give you want you want.

  • Conservative Apr 23, 2012

    How is this the governments fault? We live in a free market, if anything these peaks and valleys are what happens when the free market is left uncontrolled. It happened in 1929, the same way it occured in 2008, and if left unregulated will happen again.
    Bill Brasky

    It is called over-regulation. This increases the cost of doing business, and then has a domino effect on everything else associated with the business. One way deal with increased cost of doing business is to cut jobs. That is the reality. Sure, one can be employed but most likely they will be way underemployed.

  • chipandlio Apr 23, 2012

    As a UNC student attending Obama's speech tomorrow, I know student loans are obviously a pertinent and controversial topic in the upcoming election. However,as far as Obama's speech tomorrow, we need to look past political affiliations and look at the local achievements that have drawn the President to the Triangle to address students here.

  • forautumn Apr 23, 2012

    "If anyone is denied the right to vote it needs to be the leftists that are pushing this country over a cliff. Continuation of the kinds of policies promoted by the left will frankly ultimately lead to national bankruptcy."

    LOL...more of the same hysteria and paranoia that the right loves to promote...

    the sky is falling, the sky is falling.

    More tinfoil hats, please.

  • forautumn Apr 23, 2012

    "Forautumn is on this forum way too often to have a job which requires effort to be put forth. Probably the main reason for the Obama obsession."

    oops, wrong again, norma. Plenty to do. and plenty of time to get it done.

    No Obama obsession...just love seing you wingnuts whining and crying. You are a fine example!


  • Bill Brasky Apr 23, 2012

    "I sure hope the students have enough 'education' to ask him why 1 out of 2 college graduates is either unemployed or underemployed!"

    How is this the governments fault? We live in a free market, if anything these peaks and valleys are what happens when the free market is left uncontrolled. It happened in 1929, the same way it occured in 2008, and if left unregulated will happen again.

  • carrboroyouth Apr 23, 2012

    College kids shouldn't even be allowed to vote. They are out of touch with reality as all they do is go to school and are turned into mush heads ...

    What is wrong with you? I have earned the right to vote just as much as you have. I go to school to have the best understanding of the social and scientific world we live in, and I bet that is a far broader understanding than someone who is declaring that certain people should be denied the right to vote.

    People my age are graduating with gobs of debt and can't pay it off because there are no jobs to be had. I am lucky that I will not graduate with debt, but I understand the concerns they have. Put yourself in our shoes for once before making statements like that.