Speaking to students, Obama asks colleges to keep tuition down

President Obama put colleges and universities “on notice” Friday, saying they need to do their part to keep tuition costs down, so attending college can be a requisite for all Americans and not just a privileged few.

Speaking at the University of Michigan — his last stop on a swing through five battleground states — Obama touted the education proposal he sketched out Tuesday in his State of the Union address and said college affordability is among the “most important issues” that the country faces.

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“In this economy there is no greater predictor of individual success than a good education,” a fiery Obama told an arena of nearly 4,000 college students. “College is the single most important investment that you can make in your future.

“Higher education is not a luxury, it’s an economic imperative” that every family should afford, Obama continued. “So we’ve gotta do something to be able to help families to afford this higher education.”

Acknowledging that scholarships and student loans helped give him “a shot at a decent education,” Obama proposed increasing federal student aid so more students and their families can afford college.

But he also called on Congress “to do more,” and asked lawmakers to stop interest rates on student loans from increasing.

“That would not be good for you,” he said. “They need to extend the tuition tax credit that we’ve put in place.”

The president also asked lawmakers to double the number of work-study jobs.

But he added that “it’s not just enough to increase student aid … We can’t just keep on subsidizing skyrocketing tuition.” He said colleges and universities also need to do their part, and “can’t jack up” tuition every single year.

“We should push colleges to do better,” Obama said. “We should hold them accountable if they don’t.”

At the same time, Obama said states should “take responsibility on this issue” and make higher education a higher priority in their budgets.

In his 30-minute speech, Obama sought to keep the populist chord he struck in his State of the Union alive, telling the students, “We want a country where everybody has a chance.

“We don’t want to become a country where a shrinking number of Americans do really well while a growing number barely get by. That’s not the future we want.”

Speaking in a state that has been hit hard in the manufacturing sector, Obama touted his administration’s success with the auto industry.

When he took office, Obama said, the industry was “on the verge of collapse, [and] some politicians were willing to just let it die.”

“We said no. We believed in the workers of this state,” the president said to applause. “I believe in American ingenuity. We placed our bets on the American auto industry, and today the American auto industry is back. Jobs are coming back.”

Obama arrived in Michigan as GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney wrote an open letter in The Detroit News and the Detroit Free Press asking what he called a “simple” question: “Where are the jobs?”

Republicans also seized on the moment to criticize the president for campaigning instead of governing.

“While focusing on student loans and college affordability is important for our country, the problem is we’ve heard this all before from President Obama,” said Kirsten Kukowski, a Republican National Committee spokeswoman. “As with so many other important issues, President Obama is really good at making promises and is really bad at following through on them. Trying to jumpstart his reelection campaign, President Obama may think he can fool voters by traveling across the country, repeating the same promises he’s failed to deliver on the past three years. He should give voters more credit.”

The White House has maintained all along that Obama isn’t campaigning and is just touting his proposals from his State of the Union address. But Obama was seemingly in campaign mode Friday at the Ann Arbor campus, with his sleeves rolled up.

The crowd seemed to pick up on it.

At one point during the speech, Obama was interrupted by a student calling for “four more years.”

“OK!” the president replied.