The skyrocketing cost of a college education has been fueled both by liberals who haven't demanded that colleges control costs, and conservatives who downplay the burden placed on students, President Barack Obama told CNN in an exclusive interview Friday.
The president, speaking with CNN "New Day" anchor Chris Cuomo, said he was working to forge a middle ground in his latest bid to help students graduate college with less debt.
"The problem we've got right now is that when it comes to liberals, they've tended to say, 'Let's just give more money to the system and increase student loans and grants and aid.' And then, you know, you've got some on the right who've said, 'Money doesn't matter, and young people should be able to figure it out on their own,'" Obama said.
The president argued his proposal provides more education assistance to young people and holds colleges accountable for managing the cost of a degree.
But he also challenged students themselves to bear a greater responsibility for their own financial situation by paying closer attention to the loans they're taking out and the degrees they're pursuing.
"One of the problems we've found is that a lot of students, because in part they're not well-informed, they're taking out a lot of loans," Obama said. "But they're not thinking through how fast they need to graduate. They never graduate, and they can't pay back the loans. That means the taxpayer is getting stuck and the young person is no better off than they would have been. They're worse off."
Obama spoke to CNN on the first day of a bus tour designed to sell his education plan to students and parents. Part of his proposal includes creating the first federal college ratings system to help students make smarter choices about higher education.
Student loan debt has skyrocketed in recent years, as have delinquencies, making it a pressing issue for millions of Americans. In 2011, students owed an average of nearly $27,000 in loans, making it second only to mortgages in consumer debt.
Lawmakers fiercely debated student loans before Congress adjourned for its August recess, and eventually struck a deal that maintains low interest rates on loans, though in the future those rates could rise.
In the CNN interview, Obama called that compromise a "stop-gap measure" that still left unsolved the problem of the even-increasing price tag of a college degree.
"What we now need to do is to make sure that we are dealing with the underlying costs," he said.
"The colleges are going to have to do a better job," he continued. "State legislatures have to put money where they say their priorities are. And we're going to need to make sure that students are thinking and parents are thinking in terms of, what gives them good value for the money they're spending."
CNNMoney's Jennifer Liberto contributed to this report.