Why Obama’s Pushing Student Debt As A Campaign Issue (And Why It Matters To NH)

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President Obama's adopted student debt as one of his big campaign issues

One of the stories we try to check-up on regularly at StateImpact is New Hampshire’s student debt situation.  The average Granite Stater carries $31,000 in student debt–more than anyone else in the country.  The US House is set to vote today on whether cuts to student loan interest rates will expire this summer.  If so, the interest rate will double, from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent.

And, as a number of media outlets have noted, President Obama’s latched onto the student debt debate as a campaign issue.

Recently, NHPR political reporter Josh Rogers spoke with Word of Mouth host Virginia Prescott about this latest round of electoral gamesmanship.  Here are some highlights.

Q: Why [is student debt] so high in New Hampshire?

A: Part of it is, colleges, by and large, are expensive around here.  In-state tuition at the University of New Hampshire and the Community College tuition is high, among the higher in the nation.  There’s not a great deal of state money that goes to subsidize higher education here, and the state budget that’s now, in effect, chopped university funding by about 40 percent.  So it is a message that could potentially resonate here.

Q: So why is Obama going after this population?

A: Well, for several reasons.  One is just to shore-up a key constituency that helped him win last time.  They were crucial supporting him over John McCain by close to 3:1 in a lot of states.  But a poll earlier this week done by the Wall Street Journal and NBC News shows that interest in the election among the 18-34 year old demographic has dropped 18 percent from four years ago, which was the largest drop in any cohort, and that’s a group that the president will need and is relying on to pick him over Mitt Romney.  So the politics are pretty clear.

It’s well worth checking out the whole Word of Mouth interview.  Rogers has some surprising things to say about student participation in the Bush/Kerry race versus the McCain/Obama contest, and gives the lowdown on the Campus Day of Action in New Hampshire.  Add to that some student debt horror stories homegrown in New Hampshire and a Jimmy Fallon slow jam, and it’s a great use of eight minutes on a Friday.


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