President Barack Obama said Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney wants to cut aid to college students while keeping tax breaks for the wealthy and for corporations.
Targeting a key constituency in the swing states of Ohio and Nevada, Obama today told college audiences that Romney would pull support from students struggling to pay for higher education.
Honing his populist pitch, Obama cited a statement by Romney, the son of an automobile company executive, that students should borrow money from their parents to get a higher education and to shop around to select an affordable school.
“Not everybody has parents that have the money to lend,” he said at his first speech, on the campus of Capital University near Columbus, Ohio. “That may be news to some folks.”
Obama said Romney’s budget plan would cut aid to 10 million students while giving tax breaks “weighted toward the wealthiest Americans” and protecting “corporate tax loopholes.”
Obama was driving home his education message in a state that has voted for the winner in every presidential election since 1964. Polls show the competition for Ohio’s 18 electoral votes is up for grabs, with Obama leading Romney by less than 2 percentage points in the average of four surveys compiled by the website Real Clear Politics.
A Romney spokeswoman said the Republican’s economic proposals would help students by delivering greater job growth. Romney has vowed to create 12 million new jobs during the first term of his presidency.
“Under this president, too many young Americans are suffering from higher college costs, more debt, and a lack of good jobs when they graduate,” the spokeswoman, Amanda Henneberg, said in an e-mailed statement. “Today’s policies are just more of the same from a president who hasn’t fixed the economy or kept his promises to the young people who supported him four years ago.”
Voters ages 18 to 29 were a key constituency for Obama in the 2008 election, with a national exit poll showing he received 66 percent of their vote.
Before his speech at Capital University, a private institution, he stopped by the student union at Ohio State University to talk with students.
“Young people especially, I am going to need your help,” Obama told the crowd in Columbus, adding that the campaign had staff and volunteers available to help them register to vote “before you leave today.”
College costs have soared faster than the rate of inflation over the past four decades and student-loan debt has reached the $1 trillion mark. Obama has made expanding access to higher education one of his main re-election themes.
In January, at the University of Michigan, Obama proposed rewarding schools that control costs with access to more loans and grants. In June, at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, he touted an executive order that eases the application process for a loan program that lets students make lower payments tied to their incomes, stretching them over decades.
In the education plan he released in May, Romney said Obama’s financial-aid initiatives encourage students to take on more debt, “claiming to help them today and then sending them the bill tomorrow.”
Romney advocates cutting education regulation and encouraging colleges to become more efficient, lowering costs partly through the use of online instruction.
The rally in Ohio was the first stop in a three-state trip. After Ohio, Obama headed west to Nevada before returning east to New York City for a rally and a fundraiser with NBA basketball stars.
In Nevada, another swing state, Obama told students that “he speaks from experience” when he considers the cost of education. “I don’t think it’s any news to you that higher education is getting harder and harder to afford.” Obama said at Truckee Meadows Community College in Reno.
Obama will again address education at a community college tonight in Reno and then a high school outside of Las Vegas tomorrow, where he’ll first pose for pictures with teachers.
Obama has sought to focus attention on the effects of budget cuts on education at the state and local level. Republicans in Congress have rejected the $447 billion proposal he made in September, which would have increased direct aid to states for teacher salaries, as well as money for other public sector employees, including police and firefighters.
Last week, the White House released a study that reported that 300,000 education jobs have been lost since the recession officially ended in the summer on 2009.