New Hampshire isn't just first in the nation when it comes to hosting presidential primaries. It also ranks first in student-loan debt, and Mitt Romney is seizing on that fact to argue that President Obama has let down students.
Coinciding with Vice President Biden's visit last week to Keene State College, the Republican Party released a Web ad juxtaposing video of New Hampshire college students describing their staggering debt with what it characterized as Obama's failed promises to deliver relief. But the truth is far more complicated, and at least one of the students featured in the ad was not happy to learn that his comments were used to further an argument he rejects.
"Considering I am not a supporter of Mitt Romney, this is not exactly sitting well with me," said Matt Raso, who just finished his sophomore year at Southern New Hampshire University. The 19-year-old from Warwick, R.I., expects to graduate with roughly $80,000 in debt and said he doesn't hold Obama or the federal government responsible for any of it.
"They can't really control too much of what each school does," he said.
The ad was later removed after the television station that interviewed Raso objected to the use of its copyrighted material. But Romney's campaign stood by its assertion and plans to make the same argument in other battleground states, spokesman Ryan Williams said.
"We're highlighting the fact that the president has not been able to help students deal with this crushing debt," he said.
U.S. seniors who graduated with student loans in 2010 owed an average of $25,250, up 5 percent from the previous year, according to the Institute for College Access and Success, an education advocacy group that compiles data reported by colleges and universities. New Hampshire's average was just above $31,000, the highest in the nation.
One significant factor is that the state is home to more private, expensive schools than other states, with 40 percent of New Hampshire students attending those schools, compared to 20 percent nationally.
Obama won approval for a college tax credit worth up to $10,000 over four years and wants Congress to reduce federal aid to colleges that go too far in raising tuition, said Holly Shulman, the Obama campaign's New Hampshire spokeswoman. Romney, meanwhile, supported the House-passed budget, which would cut funding for Pell Grants.
Obama, Romney and lawmakers of both parties say they want to protect college students from a sharp increase in interest rates on federal subsidized loans. But proposals to keep the rates from doubling July 1 have become stuck in election-year wrangling over how to pay for the $6 billion cost.