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Obama to unveil student aid bill of rights at Ga. Tech

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President Obama spoke at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about the Ebola crisis last September. The president is returning to Atlanta on Tuesday to discuss college affordability. (AJC FILE PHOTO)

President Barack Obama is expected to outline a “student aid bill of rights” in a speech at Georgia Tech on Tuesday, the latest in a broad initiative to make college more affordable.

According to White House officials, the president will outline steps to reform the student loan system by focusing on borrowers in order to provide better customer service and to ensure student loan payments are affordable.

Specifically, Obama will sign a presidential memorandum with federal agencies, including the U.S. Department of Education, to study whether new federal regulations are needed to protect borrowers, said James Kvaal, Deputy Director of the Domestic Policy Council. The memorandum also requires a series of steps to help students repay their debt.

The plan also calls for the creation of a centralized website by July 2016 to allow students and borrowers to file complaints about federal student loan lenders, servicers, collection agencies and higher education institutions.

“We have a world class higher education system that is the envy of the world, but to maintain it we have to ensure that this system is accessible to all students and matched with a world class student lending system, as well,” said Sarah Bloom Raskin, Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Treasury.

Nationally, student loan debt has grown to more than $1 trillion, with seven in 10 students graduating college with an average of $28,400 in a combination of federal and private loans.

Earlier this year, Obama unveiled the America’s College Promise initiative that would make two years of community college free to qualifying students. The White House also noted Obama’s other higher education initiatives during his tenure, including increasing the maximum Pell Grant by $1,000, creating the American Opportunity Tax Credit worth up to $10,000 over four years of college, and letting borrowers cap their student loan payments at 10 percent of income.

Cecilia Muñoz, White House Director of the Domestic Policy Council, said Georgia Tech is ideal for the Tuesday event because its students have high job placement rates, the school’s “promise program” offers debt-free educations to qualified in-state students, and it’s among the first major universities to offer a master’s degree in computer science exclusively online. Georgia Tech’s online offering could serve as a model to help reduce the cost of education, she said.

Obama’s address at Georgia Tech will begin around 1:30 p.m. on Tuesday.

The trip marks the president’s third major event in the South in recent days. Last week, Obama visited Benedict College in South Carolina to discuss education, youth programs and civil rights issues. The president and First Lady Michelle Obama later attended the 50th anniversary of the voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala. on Saturday.

The president is also expected to attend a fundraiser for the Democratic National Committee at the Hyatt Regency at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday with 25 to 30 supporters, each contributing upwards of $33,400.


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