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CNBC EXCLUSIVE: CNBC TRANSCRIPT: STEVE LIESMAN SPEAKS WITH FEDERAL RESERVE CHAIRMAN BEN BERNANKE TODAY

WHEN: TODAY, TUESDAY, MARCH 20, 2012

WHERE: CNBC’S “FAST MONEY HALFTIME REPORT

Following is the unofficial transcript of a CNBC EXCLUSIVE interview with CNBC’s Steve Liesman and Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke ahead of his lecture at George Washington University School of Business.

All references must be sourced to CNBC.

Video: Bernanke: 'The Economy is Still Very Challenging'

MICHELLE CARUSO-CABRERA: WELCOME BACK. WE PROMISED YOU A BIG GUEST. WELL, STEVE LIESMAN HAS LANDED AN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH FED CHIEF BEN BERNANKE AHEAD OF HIS LECTURE AT THE GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF BUSINESS. TODAY IS THE FIRST OF FOUR CLASSES BERNANKE WILL LEAD ON THE FED AND ITS ROLE IN TODAY'S ECONOMY. HERE'S THE BREAKING NEWS EXCLUSIVE.

STEVE LIESMAN: HOW ARE YOU?

BERNANKE: STEVE, HOW ARE YOU DOING?

LIESMAN: GOOD. CAN I ASK YOU A COUPLE QUESTIONS?

BERNANKE: SURE.

LIESMAN: HOW DOES IT FEEL TO BE BACK AT SCHOOL?

BERNANKE: AWESOME. AWESOME.YOU KNOW, I WAS A PROFESSOR FOR 23 YEARS.

LIESMAN: YEAH.

BERNANKE: AND I LOVE TALKING TO STUDENTS AND IT'S A GREAT CHANCE FOR ME.

LIESMAN: DO YOU PREFER ANSWERING QUESTIONS OF JOURNALISTS AND SENATORS.. DO YOU PREFER STUDENTS TO JOURNALISTS AND SENATORS?

BERNANKE: WELL SOMETIMES YEAH I THINK I MIGHT, YEAH.

LIESMAN: TELL US WHY A FED CHAIRMAN WOULD COME AND TEACH A COURSE AT A UNIVERSITY AS A WAY OF COMMUNICATING.

BERNANKE: WELL, TO BE HONEST, I STARTED OFF DOING THIS JUST FOR MY OWN INTEREST, REALLY, BECAUSE I HAVEN'T TAUGHT FOR A WHILE. I REALLY ENJOY TALKING TO COLLEGE STUDENTS. I FREQUENTLY HAVE COLLEGE STUDENTS AT THE FED. IT'S FUN TO ENGAGE WITH THEM. BUT IT LOOKS LIKE IT'S GOING TO BE A GOOD EDUCATIONAL OPPORTUNITY, WITH GEORGE WASHINGTON SETTING UP THE COURSE AS THEY HAVE AND WITH ALL THE TECHNOLOGY, YOU KNOW, THAT ALLOWS US TO STREAM THE LECTURES AND PROVIDE VIDEOTAPES AND SO ON. YOU KNOW, I THINK IT'S GOING TO BE A GOOD OPPORTUNITY TO TALK ABOUT THE CONTEXT OF THE CRISIS AND WHAT THE FED DID.

LIESMAN: IF A STUDENT RAISES HIS HAND AND ASKS WELL HOW IS THE WORLD GOING TO BE DIFFERENT FOR ME, SAY IS THE ECONOMY GOING TO BE DIFFERENT FOR ME WHEN I GRADUATE, WHAT CAN YOU TELL THEM, AS A RESULT OF THE CRISIS?

BERNANKE: WELL, YOU KNOW, THE ECONOMY IS STILL VERY CHALLENGING, YOU KNOW. UNEMPLOYMENT IS STILL HIGH AND IT CREATES PROBLEMS FOR EVERYBODY, OBVIOUSLY, YOU KNOW. THAT'S THE HONEST ANSWER. BUT I THINK THE LONGER-TERM PROSPECTS FOR THE COUNTRY ARE VERY GOOD, AND ULTIMATELY, THINGS WILL NORMALIZE. BUT IN THE SHORT RUN, OF COURSE, WE'RE STILL DEALING WITH IMPORTANT CHALLENGES.

LIESMAN: ONE QUICK CURRENT QUESTION. INTEREST RATES ARE UP RECENTLY, AND SO PEOPLE ARE CONCERNED ABOUT WHAT THAT MEANS FOR THE ECONOMY, AND WE DID A FED SURVEY THAT SHOWED THAT PEOPLE THINK THAT THE FED WON'T BE ON HOLD UNTIL LATE 2014. WHAT DO YOU SAY ABOUT THE RECENT RISE IN INTEREST RATES?

BERNANKE: WELL, I'M HERE TO TALK ABOUT HISTORY AND ABOUT THE FED'S ROLE IN THE CRISIS AND SO ON. WE'RE GOING TO CONTINUE TO ANALYZE, YOU KNOW, THE FINANCIAL DATA WE GET, AND THE COMMITTEE'S GOING TO LOOK AT EVERYTHING THAT'S HAPPENING. OF COURSE, IT'S AN INTERESTING PERIOD NOW BECAUSE WE'VE SEEN SOME IMPROVEMENT. WE STILL HAVE A LONG WAY TO GO. SO WE'RE GOING TO KEEP LOOKING AT IT.

LIESMAN: I THOUGHT ONE WAY I COULD ASK THAT YOU MIGHT WANT TO ANSWER IS, WILL INTEREST RATES STILL BE EXCEPTIONALLY LOW WHEN THE JUNIOR GRADUATES?

BERNANKE: I DON'T KNOW, DEPENDS ON HOW GOOD THEIR COURSE WORK IS, YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN? IF THEY GET THROUGH IN TIME.

LIESMAN: OKAY. THANKS, MR. CHAIRMAN.

BERNANKE: THANK YOU.

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