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President Obama Talks Student Loan Debt At UNC

President Obama brought his message of affordable education for all to the Tar Heel State as part of a day-long college tour.

Gurnal Scott: University of North Carolina juniors Maria Rodriguez, Emalyn Penn and Mariella Albarado sat together at UNC's Carmichael Arena hoping for specific words to come from the President.

Maria Rodriguez: I want to hear him say that there are going to be cheap student loans. That's exactly what I want to hear him say.

They're a year away from graduating but a looming jump in their student loan interest rates has grabbed their attention. Emalyn Penn hopes by the time she gets her diploma, there will be a job waiting for her that helps her pay off that debt.

Emalyn Penn: If they do end up going up, that'll increase as I graduate and as months go by, depending on how good my income is, it will impact whether I'm able to pay them

Introduction: Please join me in welcoming the President of the United States.

President Obama emerged to an enthusiastic crowd 8000 strong, mostly students with some university faculty sprinkled about. After some friendly lines about his love for the state and how he hoped his NCAA Tournament pick of the Tar Heels to win came true, He launched into the meat of his message that this full arena came to hear.

President Obama: This country has always made a commitment to put a good education within the reach of all who are willing to work for it. That's what makes us special. That's what made us an economic super power. That's what kept us at the forefront of business and science and technology and medicine. That's a commitment that we have to re-affirm today in 2012.

President Obama wanted these students to know that despite his current job, his family knows their pain.

President Obama: We only finished paying off our student loans about eight years ago. That wasn't that long ago. And that wasn't easy, especially because when we had Malia and Sasha, we're supposed to be saving up for their college educations and we're still paying off our college education.

Now it should be noted that the White House did not call this a campaign event but consider where it happened: at the flagship university in the battleground state that will host his party's convention in September. That played into his coming to this basketball-happy school to promise a full-court press on Capitol Hill to make higher education affordable.

President Obama: They need to extend the tuition tax credit that we put into place back when I came into office. It's saving middle-class families thousands of dollars. Congress needs to safeguard aid for low-income students like Pell grants so that today's freshmen and sophomores know that they'll be able to count on it.

North Carolina Republican Party chair Robin Hayes responded to the visit via conference call saying the President should be in Washington working on finding jobs for college graduates rather of going campus to campus trying to win their votes. White House estimates put loan debts per student at about 25 thousand dollars. According to UNC's numbers, 35 percent of graduates last year borrowed money to pay for their education. Whether they borrowed or not, Emalyn Penn says she's glad the potential debt is being discussed.

Emalyn Penn: For people who aren't worried about student loans or haven't taken out any student loans, the came to see the President, but it raises awareness for them to know that it is an issue for other people, something that they should be worried about even if it doesn't directly affect them.

After his stop in Chapel Hill, the President boarded Air Force One for Colorado. On another campus..with another college crowd beating the drum for affordable education.

Gurnal Scott joined North Carolina Public Radio in March 2012 after several stops in radio and television. After graduating from the College of Charleston in his South Carolina hometown, he began his career in radio there. He started as a sports reporter at News/Talk Radio WTMA and won five Sportscaster of the Year awards. In 1997, Gurnal moved on to television as general assignment reporter and weekend anchor for WCSC-TV in Charleston. He anchored the market's top-rated weekend newscasts until leaving Charleston for Memphis, TN in 2002. Gurnal worked at WPTY-TV for two years before returning to his roots in radio. He joined the staff of Memphis' NewsRadio 600 WREC in 2004 eventually rising to News Director. In 2006, Raleigh news radio station WPTF came calling and he became the station's chief correspondent. Gurnal’s reporting has been honored by the South Carolina Broadcasters Association, the North Carolina Associated Press, and the Radio Television Digital News Association of the Carolinas.
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