President Barack Obama addressed student reporters in a conference call about the importance of affordable higher education for the nation’s future on Wednesday, March 11.
“There’s a lot more we can be doing to make sure that everyone can participate in prosperity,” he said. “Higher education remains one of the best investments you can make in your future, but also one of the best investments you can make in your country’s future. It’s never been more important.”
The call was a response to the executive order signed by Obama yesterday, which included directives to the Department of Education and proposed a “student aid bill of rights.” Obama was joined by several senior White House officials including U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.
The proposed bill of rights would give every student the right to a quality education and the resources necessary to receive it. Borrowers are given the rights to an affordable payment plan, quality customer service, reliable information and fair treatment — regardless of their loan statuses.
The order also mandates the creation of a new, centralized website by July 1, 2016, where students will be able to file complaints and access all loan information. The site will be a “one-stop shop” for communication with federal agencies, collectors and even the financial aid office of the students’ university, according to James Kvaal, deputy director of the Domestic Policy Council.
Clarifications to bankruptcy laws will also be made, as directed by the order, however these changes will be made by Congress and bankruptcy courts. Under current laws, it is harder to forgive obligation to student loans than any other form of debt.
“We knew that if we worked hard, there was help out there to make sure we got a great education,” he said of his and the First Lady’s experience with student debt. “That’s what this country gave to us.”
Obama said quality education is necessary for the American workforce to remain competitive in the global economy. He added that accessible higher education is “going to be critical for us to maintain our democracy in a complex, diverse society.”
The best safeguard for freedom is education, according to Obama. “To have all of you possess the ability to listen and 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. It’s going to make you better citizens, and it’s going to make our democracy function better.”