Barack Obama promised change -- the change we can believe in, the change we need, in the words of a 2008 campaign slogan. For people with student loans, the change they’ve seen has not been what they hoped for. Loans have become more expensive, and there are now many more people with them--43 million today compared with the 29 million when Obama was first elected.
As of last July, nearly 7 million Americans with student loans hadn’t made a payment on their federal loans after 360 days. That works out to about 17% of all borrowers with federal loans. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, student debt has tripled in the last decade as Obama enters his eighth and final year in office.
The Democratic National Committee email blasted its constituents urging them to turn on Tuesday night's State of the Union address, the last before Obama leaves office, with the tag line, "It's Time To Get Fired Up to Finish the Work We Started!”
Meanwhile, Higher Ed Not Debt, a student organization that is part of Generation Progress, set up a blast of its own, taking to Twitter to kick off the In The Red Campaign, employing the hashtag #InTheRed. The fear was that student loans weren’t going to make the cut in Obama’s shortened address.
”President Obama’s final State of the Union Address is on tonight,” the Twitter message said. “There are 43 million of us with student loans, and the student debt crisis deserves more than just a passing mention,” read a statement that seemed to temper anger with diplomacy.
”College costs continue to rise, our current student debt is unmanageable, and politicians have yet to take meaningful action to reform higher education financing,” In The Red said. “Legislators need to have a plan for the student debt crisis and we need to make them hear our stories.”
Thus far, the Twitter screed is all they wrote; there is no website yet. "At this point we have a blog post up with action items at http://higherednotdebt.org/blog/inthered,” said Charlotte Hancock, digital director at Higher Ed, Not Debt. "No overall site, as of yet."
While First Lady Michelle Obama invited two people to serve as poster children for the student loan crisis, In The Red enlisted the support of at least nine Senators to their cause, including Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.). Like the First Lady, they brought students and student loan borrowers to the State of the Union as part of the #InTheRed kick-off. In the run-up to the address, the Senators stumped for #InTheRed, describing the effect the student loan crisis is having on the American economy.
"We’re thrilled to have worked with these senators to launch the #InTheRed campaign," said Maggie Thompson, campaign manager of Higher Ed, Not Debt. "Since student loan debt passed $1 trillion in 2012, the need for solutions for student loan borrowers has only grown, and this campaign draws attention to this critical issue in a big way. More needs to be done--over the past year alone, student debt has increased by over 100 billion dollars.”
Many have found Obama's higher ed policies disappointing to say the least, from the botched handling of the Corinthian College crisis to the cringe-worthy College Scorecard and the embarrassing attempt to tax 529 College Savings accounts, a decision the White House had to reverse days after it was announced. When the spectacle of In The Red's Tweetstorm is stripped away, what's the underlying message? Is it and attempt to encourage the Obama administration to improve its efforts to relieve students of their student loan debt burden, a vote of no confidence or a warning to Democrats in general?