2016 is fast approaching, and that means election season. Major news networks will stalk and highlight candidates from left and right sides of the aisle. In this highly televised and recorded world, nearly everything will be analyzed and critiqued – moment-by-moment. The primaries will be a grueling process where candidates likely undercut their opponents and new ideals.
As contenders begin to take form, I can’t help but think about what issues will be most important for my generation and those to come. Financially, we are hurting. Millennials are not saving at the rates of previous generations. We are entering the workforce with record levels of debt and stagnant wages. Despite a somewhat recovered economy, we are starting behind the curve.
One of the biggest reasons for our trouble is student loan debt. In fact, it eclipses all other forms from credit cards to cars to mortgages. America is addicted to debt, but the favorite kind seems to center on youth pursuing educations. Unfortunately, this policy of placing higher cost burden on students has led to numerous unintended consequences. Graduates are suffering, despite being raised to believe that college was a simple path to prosperity.
There are few reasons for hope. Congress is a house divided. They’re split on nearly everything, and funding education via taxation isn’t on the table. This instability and counterproductive snowball-lobbing Congress cripples younger generations.
Thankfully, there’s a light amidst this partisan dueling: President Barack Obama. He recently sat down with a few high school and college students to talk about issues in education and student loans. The President acknowledged that he only paid off his own student loans in full the year before he entered congress, and that they were more than his home mortgage.
Instantaneously, the sometimes-deified leader of “the free world” became real. The students that filled the room nodded in unison and seemed appreciative. The President leaned in, and questioned the group about their own experiences.
He asked one student what she wished she would’ve known or something that was difficult about the process. She responded that student loan interest was mentioned, but not entirely explained. And she’s not alone. Most college students don’t have a firm grasp of what student loans can do. The President kindly responded that institutions tend to just hand the bill at the end of college.
This was a man who aimed to talk with students around this country – not just in that room. And no matter how planned, prepared, staged, and for-show this event was, it highlighted something rare and powerful in politics: approachability.
This administration and President must’ve known that this segment for Vice News would provide positive sentiment for the White House. But that shouldn’t matter, because this is how that office chose to connect – in a radically different way than every office before it. Regardless of the calculated nature of the time with these students, it made an impressive impact.
In a political world that could not be more hostile and aggressive, we need politicians that sit down with younger generations and empathize with the struggle in higher education. There’s hope for a better future if more do so.
Come 2016, I want to see a candidate who can sit down with younger generations and truly lean in. I want a future president who’s approachable for diverse – socioeconomically disenfranchised – people.
President Barack Obama and his staff have mastered this element, and I look forward to someone who can do even better. We need action and reform to solve the student loan crisis.