President Barack Obama speaks at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Tuesday, April 24, 2012. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) — Courting college voters, President Barack Obama said Tuesday that Congress needs to keep the cost of college loans from skyrocketing for millions of students, taking an election-year pitch to three states crucial to his bid to hold onto the White House.
Obama told students at the University of North Carolina that he personally understood the burden of college costs, noting that he and first lady Michelle Obama had "been in your shoes" and didn't pay off their student loans until eight years ago.
"I didn't just read about this. I didn't just get some talking points about this. I didn't get a policy briefing on this," Obama said, recalling he and his wife shared a "mountain of debt" not a long time ago. "When we married, we got poor together."
The emphasis on his personal experience set up a contrast with his likely Republican presidential opponent, Mitt Romney, whose father was a wealthy auto executive.
By taking on student debt, Obama spoke to middle-class America and targeted an enormous burden that threatens the economic recovery. He was heading to campuses in the South, West and Midwest to sell his message to colleges audiences bound to support it.
Pressuring Republicans in Congress to act, he sought to energize the young people essential to his campaign — those who voted for him last time and the many more who have turned voting age since then. Obama urged students to take their message to social media sites like Twitter to pressure their lawmakers.
Both Obama and Romney have expressed support for freezing the current interest rates on the loan for poorer and middle-class students but lawmakers are still exploring ways to pay for the plan. The issue is looming because the rate will double from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent on July 1 without intervention by Congress, an expiration date chosen in 2007 when a Democratic Congress voted to chop the rate in half.