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Obama pens ‘Student Aid Bill of Rights’

By Nick Stoico, Executive Editor

President Obama spoke before some 10,000 students at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta on Tuesday and asserted that earning a college degree is “surest ticket to the middle-class and beyond.”

But while a college education has developed into a necessity for a comfortable career and lifestyle, it has also never been so expensive.

In an effort to display his concern in aiding students dogged down in debt, Obama rolled out and signed a “Student Aid Bill of Rights” outlining several ideas to enhance the student loan systems operated under the federal government.

“It’s not a fancy new program,” Obama said. “It doesn’t involve new spending or bureaucracy. Its just a simple organizing principle that I want all of us to sign onto, a declaration of values…”

The declaration Obama described calls for every student to have access to an affordable and quality education, the necessary resources to pay for college, the right to a reasonable payment plan, and the right quality customer service and reliable information.

New Hampshire had the highest student debt rate in 2013 with 76 percent of the graduating class leaving school with some amount of debt, according to a report by The Institute for College Access and Success. The average debt students owed in the Granite State was $32,571.

“I am pleased that the conversation on affordability and access to higher education continues at a national level,” UNH President Mark Huddleston said in a statement in response to Obama’s declaration.

The U.S. Department of Education found that New Hampshire students have an estimated debt accumulation of just over $5 billion, as of January this year.

“New Hampshire students graduate with the nation’s highest per capita student loan debt,” Huddleston said, “a direct reflection of our state’s low level of public support for higher education, and we need to continue to work together to ensure every young person can afford to further their education beyond high school.”

While Huddleston calls on the State House in Concord to ease college costs, Obama’s memorandum focuses on the lending practices based out of Washington, D.C.

The president ordered federal agencies to test new methods that could enhance and simplify the borrower’s experience. The executive order directs the Secretary of Education to create a new website by July 1, 2016, that will “give students and borrowers a simple and straightforward way to file complaints and provide feedback about federal student loan lenders, servicers, collections agencies, and institutions of higher education.”

In addition, consumer protection and the safe practice of disclosing borrowers’ financial information is at the forefront of the plan, placing more responsibility for the students’ interests on federal agencies.

Worked into the plan is Obama’s bold proposal to Congress in January that would make community college free. The White House expects this could benefit nearly 9 million students, letting them earn two years of college and the skills needed to be productive in the workforce free of charge.

“Not everybody may be prepared right away to start a four-year degree,” Obama said. “We want to make community college, at a minimum, just as free and universal as high school is today.”

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