– “Thank you, Mr. President, for inviting Tumblr to your house.”
– “Well… it’s a rental house.”
Thus began President Obama’s first ever Tumblr Q&A session on Tuesday afternoon. Moderated by Tumblr founder David Karp, the discussion was broadcast live on the official White House Tumblr page and allowed the President to take questions about college affordability from the popular microblogging site’s users, the majority of whom are young college-aged students (and voters). In fact, Karp stated that nearly a third of all those who applied for student loans in the United States were Tumblr users, making the social media platform a powerful tool for the President to reach his younger constituents.
The buildup of college loans and students’ inability to pay them have become mounting issues for the future of the American economy, especially as tuition skyrockets and the job market continues to lag. Media outlets have used the term “financially disadvantaged” to describe college graduates who have accumulated student debt, but this euphemism does not convey the severity of the estimated $1 trillion that graduates in the United States are accountable for.
To gauge the difficulty of repaying student loans, the Arizona Pathways to Life Success for University Students (known by its clever acronym “APLUS”) research study traced the finances of one-thousand college students beginning in 2007—just before the Great Recession—to the present. The results were, to say the least, discouraging. APLUS found that even at ages 23 to 26, more than two-thirds of the sample students were unable to support themselves financially, with student debt playing a large role in the struggle.
This study is simply a microcosm of what has become commonplace across America. From 1997 to 2007, the average undergraduate student’s debt has doubled from $9,250 to $20,098. These numbers continue to rise as many public universities raise tuition rates in response to the lack of state-subsidized funding. Tuition at private universities has also increased, due to the rising costs of living (such as healthcare for university employees), as well as for maintenance of facilities and, as President Obama pointed out in his session, prestige. So as the cost of a college education rises, young Americans—or at least the ones on Tumblr—have once again raised the question: “Is college worth it?”
The answer, according to President Obama, is an unequivocal “yes.”
Throughout the session, the President reinforced the idea that although college is a substantial investment, it is one worth making. Obama spoke of his actions to lower the percentage that students would have to pay from their salary towards their federal student loans (from 15% to 10%), which was initiated in 2011. In addition, he discussed “forgiveness plans” for students who entered public service and emphasized the importance of tackling student debt both before enrolling and after graduation. Though much of today’s controversy surrounds post-graduation debt, Obama suggests high school reforms that allow students to explore specialized careers and their own skill sets before making a decision about college. This, he argues, does not box students in, but rather lets them explore all options, as well as potentially saving thousands of dollars for students who did not necessarily want or need to pursue the traditional path of higher education. In the midst of this discussion, the President mentioned the creation of the government College Scorecard, an online tool to aid students in their college search (http://www.whitehouse.gov/issues/education/higher-education/college-score-card). Most importantly, Obama warned students not to waste time by letting college simply be “a box to check” or a place to have fun until the “real world” hits; rather, he urged them to make college a place to actively learn and cultivate passions.
Speaking of passions, several Tumblr users posed the age-old question of “I love what I do/study but there is no demand for it, so what should do I do?” To this, the President responded with a practical, albeit not perfect, answer: “You can’t always follow your bliss right away.” He continued by advising young people facing such a dilemma that their education and career will not always follow a straight line, but that there is nothing wrong with working a job they might not particularly like in order to build a base to pursue their passions in the future. However, the President did address the demand in the STEM fields in the United States as a followup to his previous answer, as if reminding students of the sectors of the economy that are hiring.
Later in the discussion, President Obama also brought up Senator Elizabeth Warren’s (D-MA) Bank on Students Loan Fairness Act, a bill that “lets students take advantage of the same low interest rates offered to banks through the Federal Reserve discount window.” Such legislation would benefit retroactive borrowers who have taken out federal student loans prior to the 2011 launch of the 10% salary cap for loan payments, but is likely—to the president’s frustration—to be tabled in Congress. Obama’s exasperation with Congress was also evident in his response to Tumblr questions about gun control and the mass shootings of the past month, to which the President called the public to action, saying that only a change in public opinion could sway lawmakers to take steps towards stronger gun regulations.
As the Q&A session drew to a close, President Obama left his audience with poignant remarks on the young people of American society, who, according to him, have been raised in a culture that can breed disenchantment. The President urged the younger generation to “guard against cynicism,” and to search for brighter opportunities on the horizon.
To watch the whole Tumblr Session on the White House Tumblr Page, visit: http://bit.ly/obamaqa
Shim, Soyeon. “Arizona Pathways to Life Success for University Students.”Arizona Pathways 1st ser. 1.1 (2009): n. pag. The University of Arizona, Apr. 2009. Web. 10 June 2014.
“Watch: President Obama’s First-Ever Tumblr Q&A.” The Official White House Tumblr. The White House, 10 June 2014. Web. 10 June 2014.
Warren, Elizabeth. “Bank On Students Loan Fairness Fact Sheet.” BANK ON STUDENTS LOAN FAIRNESS ACT Fact Sheet (n.d.): n. pag.Http://www.warren.senate.gov/. Elizabeth Warren. Web. 10 June 2014.
Woodruff, Mandi. “More than Half of College Graduates Rely on Family for Financial Support.” Yahoo Finance. Yahoo.com, 10 June 2014. Web. 11 June 2014.