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Obama touts higher ed reforms in rally-like atmosphere

 

ANN ARBOR, MI -- The White House insists that the three-day, five-state tour upon which President Obama embarked on Wednesday was intended to sell his State of the Union message, and wasn't directed toward campaign purposes.

But a speech by Obama at the University of Michigan on Friday seemed to undercut that claim, with its rally-like atmosphere and warm welcome for the president.

Prefaced by the University of Michigan pep band, surrounded by bunting and in front of an enthusiastic college crowd of about 4000, the President focused on his plan to expand college affordability.

He characterized most of the education initiatives he spoke about today as needing legislative approval, helping him to further the narrative of a "do-nothing-Congress."

“Now Congress has to do more. Congress needs to do more. They need to stop the interest rates on student loans from doubling this July. That's what’s scheduled to happen if Congress doesn't act. That would not be good for you,” the President said to a laughing audience.

Along with keeping student loan interest rates low, the White House is looking to make a higher education tax credit permanent, develop a “Race to the Top” program to create incentives for colleges and universities to make tuition affordable, expand the Perkins loan program and tie the level of federal aid received by higher learning institutions to the affordability and value of that school’s learning experience.

“We are putting colleges on notice…you can't assume that you’ll just jack up tuition every single year.  If you can’t stop tuition from going up, then the funding you get from taxpayers each year will go down,” warned Obama.

The President’s words were met with cheers and chants of “four more years” the occasional burst of “we love you.” Ann Arbor is reliably Democratic turf, and especially hospitable to Obama. Washtenaw County was one of the few counties in Michigan in the 2008 Democratic primary to vote for "uncommitted" -- a de-facto vote for Obama, who wasn't on the ballot due to broken primary rules -- over Hillary Clinton.

Students in attendance braved a pre-dawn wintry mix and hours of security lines to catch a glimpse of the president, including one particular student, Wolverines quarterback Denard Robinson, who was singled out for praise by Obama.

"Denard Robinson is in the house. I hear you're coming back, man. That is a good deal for Michigan," he said to audience cheers for the Heisman hopeful.

To one audience member who shouted "Denard Robinson in 2012!" Obama replied: "They're trying to draft you for president. He's got to graduate before he runs for President. There's an age limit."