Check Out Obama’s Tumblr Event on Student Loans – a White House Social Media First
June 25, 2014

President Obama has long proven himself to be social media savvy – this no doubt comes from having two teenage daughters that keep him on his toes. In June, POTUS sat down with Tumblr founder David Karp to talk about student loans in the White House’s first ever Tumblr. After Karp thanked him for letting them come to his house for the event, Obama joked that he’s in a rental house where the lease runs out in 2 ½ years. And a cool fun fact – none of the questions were seen by the President in advance.

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President Obama Does Tumblr
Image source: Flickr Creative Commons User Steve Jurvetson

Here are seven interesting questions (paraphrased for brevity) from Tumblr Goes to the White House and the answers POTUS gave:

#1 The repayment plans seem like a band-aid. What is being done to lower college costs so student loans aren’t needed?

President Obama mentioned that he called in college deans and administrators to talk about lowering tuition. But then he went on to blame state legislatures for cutting funding to schools to devote more funds to prisons and other projects that he said were less meaningful.

#2 Colleges help students get into debt, but don’t offer them resources like financial planning to help them deal with it. Is there a plan to improve this?

POTUS talked about Know Before You Owe, where students will be told what debt would be required based on their financial aid and what monthly payments this would cause. He said this front-end counseling from colleges and universities should help.

#3 It wasn’t until after college that I knew what I wanted to do and the degree I got doesn’t fit that. How can we better prepare students for this decision instead of just pressuring them?

The President said that high school should be a time when students are exposed to careers instead of just studying. He mentioned a program called pTEC, in Florida, where students can get an Associates degree by the time they graduate high school. He said he wants to see more hands-on experience for students while still in high school.

#4 Can we make a larger commitment to tuition or student loan forgiveness for students that give back to their communities by serving in the Peace Corps, Teach for America, etc.?

President Obama mentioned that we have some programs like this in place but these are small and specialized. He added that he has been unsuccessful in convincing Congress to expand these programs. He said some more, but the upshot was that Congress is to blame for tanking most student loan relief legislation.

White House Tumblr

President Obama and Tumblr Founder David Karp
Image source: WhiteHouse.gov

#5 How can we promote STEM fields without putting humanities on the back burner?

We all know POTUS is a humanities grad – he majored in political science with an English minor. He said he fell out of love with math and science in high school and that in humanities you can talk your way through classes, and you can’t do that in math and science. (Much laughter ensued.) He added that we are not producing enough engineers, computer scientists, researchers, and math and science teachers. He said we have a shortage and have to emphasize STEM and will work with public schools to encourage these fields.

#6 Why is there no discussion on mounting private student loan debt?

The President said there is discussion and concern around this topic but said they (the government) have less leverage over these lenders. He said we have some impact on federal loans, but private loans are being regulated by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. He mentioned Warren’s bill on refinancing private debt (but of course we know now this bill went down in flames).

#7 Instead of pushing all students into college, shouldn’t we focus on increasing the minimum wage and making it liveable to enter the workforce straight out of high school?

President Obama said that most jobs now require some sort of advanced training. He mentioned that he visits a lot of factories and that most facilities are mechanized and computerized. He said familiarity with coding and computers is a huge advantage and that we need to do a better job of offering effective vocational education to those that want it.

To watch the entire nearly-hour-long event, click here.

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