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By Doug Bair
February 4, 2014
Caption : During a sit-down interview with President Obama, Fox News host Bill O'Reilly said he didn't need student loans to pay for college: "Nah, I painted houses, I didn’t get any. See, that's who I am."     

How many houses did Bill O’Reilly have to paint to cover tuition bills at Boston University and Harvard?

That’s the question many Americans—including the 40 million who have $1.2 trillion student debt—will likely have after watching the Fox News host’s sit-down interview with President Obama this week following Obama’s State of the Union address.

During the unedited segment of the interview, Obama discusses the need to support current college students and existing borrowers of student loan debt, noting today’s skyrocketing tuition costs over the course of the last couple decades.

“You and I took advantage of certain things,” the president said. “I don’t know about you, but I got some loans to go to college.”

But O’Reilly shrugged off the notion that he took any government or loan assistance to pay for his degrees. O’Reilly has an undergraduate degree from Marist College, reportedly studied abroad at the University of London, and went on to earn a Master’s from Boston University and a Master’s from Harvard University.

“Nah, I painted houses, I didn’t get any,” O’Reilly told Obama, referring to student loans. “See, that’s who I am.”

Watch the interview below, via Talking Points Memo:

Is Bill O’Reilly suggesting that young people foot their college costs by painting houses? If so, that’d be nearly impossible: the cost of a college degree has increased over 1,000 percent in three decades, and it’d take an awful lot of painting to make up the average student loan debt today of $29,400.

Last time we checked, painting a house professionally probably qualifies as a minimum-wage job, where wages have not kept up with rising college costs (or cost of living) by any means. Earlier this year, President Obama raised the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour for federal contractors, and encouraged Congress to follow suit this year with a federal increase.

But let’s play along for a minute. If one of those federal contractors painted O’Reilly’s house, it would take her 1,443 hours (or 36 consecutive 40-hour work weeks) to pay for one year of tuition of $14,576, the cost for an in-state student in New Hampshire, one of the most expensive states for in-state students.

Most college students have just 12 weeks between semesters, so it would take three summer breaks for today’s students to make enough to cover one year of tuition. (We’re also not factoring in living expenses and other personal costs here.)

President Obama quickly called out O’Reilly’s completely absurd suggestion that painting houses is an effective way to pay tuition without the need for student loans. In fact, the president said he had other jobs to help cover tuition, but “it still wasn’t enough,” he told O’Reilly. And we know it took the president years to pay off his student loan debt.

Sure, working to help cover college costs is common. But today, we’re facing higher-than-ever ticket prices and grappling with a student debt crisis that is pushing millions out of the middle class. Without programs like the Pell Grant and student loans, millions of hard-working Americans might never pursue or complete a higher education.

Instead of attacking the government for providing crucial support to millions, we should be working together to find solutions to these challenges.

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