Obama has tough love for young people in Tumblr student loan chat

Liz Goodwin, Yahoo News
Yahoo News

President Barack Obama had some tough love for young people in a discussion on student loans hosted by Tumblr on Tuesday afternoon, warning them not to waste their time while in college and reminding them that they might have to take a job they don’t like to pay off their debts.

Obama told the audience of Tumblr users gathered at the White House that despite skyrocketing tuition costs, college is still worth it for most people.

“Is this a good investment? It absolutely is,” the president said in response to a question from a Tumblr user about sky-high loans. “It continues to be a very smart investment for you to go to college.”

But the president also added that college is not for everyone and suggested that some young people might prefer to try trade school. He also said they should remain “practical” about choosing a career that will actually pay off their loans.

“I worked for a year in a job I wasn’t interested in, because I wanted to pay off my loans,” he said of his time at a law firm. “You know, work is not always fun. And you can’t always follow your bliss right away.”

The discussion was moderated from the White House by the microblogging site’s 27-year-old founder, David Karp. Karp, who founded Tumblr at age 21, skipped college in favor of the startup world.

But the president said other young people should not follow in Karp’s shoes.

“You wouldn’t know it looking at you, but you’re like LeBron or Durant,” Obama said, referring to the NBA stars. He said students shouldn’t bank on becoming superstars without a college degree.

Obama appeared to be the most moved by a question from a Tumblr user that veered from the topic of college loans to ask what the country can do about shootings that take place on school campuses around the country.

“My biggest frustration so far is the fact that this society has not been willing to take some basic steps to keep guns out of the hands of people who can do just unbelievable damage,” Obama said. “We’re the only developed country where this happens. ... It happens once a week. And it’s a one-day story.”

The president said he is astonished that the Sandy Hook shootings a year and a half ago did not result in a change in gun laws. (A bill to strengthen background checks failed in the Senate last year.)

“I have been in Washington for a while now, and most things don’t surprise me. The fact that 20 6-year-olds were gunned down in the most violent fashion possible and this town couldn’t do anything about it was stunning to me,” Obama said, referring to Washington, D.C.

He added: “The country has to do some soul-searching about this.”

Tumblr solicited questions from its users — 40 percent of whom are between 18 and 34 years old — beginning last Thursday for the discussion. Yahoo acquired Tumblr on May 20, 2013. 

Ahead of the chat, the president expanded a program so that millions more borrowers can qualify for lower monthly payments, capped at 10 percent of their income. And he used part of the discussion to stump for a bill introduced this week by Senate Democrats, which would allow many borrowers to refinance their old student debts.

Critics of the bill and the president’s executive action say they don’t do enough to address the root problem: higher education’s skyrocketing cost. Obama didn’t discuss specific ways colleges could keep costs down, but said he has urged college presidents to tackle that problem. 

The president often says he wants the country to lead the world in the share of the population that has a four-year degree by 2020. But lightning-fast increases in tuition, especially at public institutions, have made it more challenging for low-income and middle-class young people to go to college. By this spring, average college debt will reach $30,000. The total amount of outstanding student debt passed $1 trillion last year.

The president has held “White House Socials” before, answering questions on Twitter, Reddit and other platforms. This was his first time using Tumblr for such an event.