ABC News’ Mary Bruce and Devin Dwyer report:
President Obama formally announced his plan to lower college loan payments today, telling students in Denver that their education, and their ability to afford it, is essential to the future economic growth of the country.
“College isn’t just one of the best investments you can make in your future, it’s one of the best investments America can make in our future,” Obama said at the University of Colorado in Denver. “We want you in school. But we shouldn’t saddle you with debt when you’re starting off.”
The new initiative would allow student borrowers to cap their loan repayments at 10 percent of their discretionary income starting next year, two years earlier than previously expected. The plan would also help students consolidate their loans at lower interest rates.
According to the president, the changes would help 1.6 million students lower their monthly payments by hundreds of dollars.
“We should be doing everything we can to put a college education within reach for every American,” Obama said. “It’s never been more important, but let’s face it: It’s also never been more expensive.”
He noted that graduates who took out loans left college last year owing an average of $24,000.
Graduating with a heavy debt burden was something the president said he could relate to.
“This is something Michelle and I know about firsthand. I’ve been in your shoes,” Obama said. “By the time we both graduated from law school, we had between us about $120,000 worth of debt. You know … we combined and got poorer together. … We combined our liabilities, not our assets.”
Even though the president and first lady both had good jobs and steady incomes, Obama said it took them almost 10 years to pay off their debt and that it “wasn’t easy.”
The president also brought an inspirational message to the students during his second visit to the swing state of Colorado in a month. Young voters, like those in the audience today, helped Obama turn the red state of Colorado blue in 2008, but now face graduating college into an uncertain economy.
“When I look out at all of you, I feel confident because I know that as long as there are young people like you who still have hope and are still inspired by the possibilities of America, then there are going to be better days for this country. … You inspire me — your hopes and your dreams and your opportunities,” Obama said.
The president’s new student loan plan is part of a series of executive actions that he is taking to boost the economy while circumventing Republican lawmakers, who have blocked his $447 billion jobs bill in Congress.
“I intend to do everything in my power right now to act on behalf of the American people with or without Congress,” Obama said. “We can’t wait for Congress to do its job. So where they won’t act, I will.”
The president’s speech today wrapped up his three-day western trip, which also included stops in Nevada and California. In addition to promoting his “we won’t wait” campaign and announcing executive actions, the president raised some serious campaign cash during the trip, delivering remarks at six campaign events.