President Barack Obama told University of Iowa students today that a college education is the way to make it in America.
"Higher education is the single clearest path to the middle class," Obama told a supportive crowd at the University of Iowa Field House.
Obama was visiting to make a pitch to prevent a federal student-loan rate increase, and he is taking his argument to those likely to be most receptive: students.
was one piece of a multi-campus tour that included stops at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and University of Colorado in Boulder on Tuesday.
"I love you guys, and I believe in you guys," Obama told the student-dominated crowd.
It's no coincidence Obama chose to visit Iowa, which is expected to be a hard- fought battleground state in the upcoming general election. Students, too, are an obvious audience. He will need to again harness the youth support, which helped fuel his 2008 election victory.
Obama is pushing Congress to pass a $6 billion plan to freeze student loans at a 3.4 percent interest rate. If Congress doesn't act ,the rate will rise to 6.8 percent on new loans in July, which translates to roughly a $1,000 per-student increase.
Iowa is also a logical place to include on the tour. Iowa's students leave college with $30,000 in student debt, which is third highest in the nation.
"It's a big problem," said Tom Clos, 23, a UI senior from Plymouth, MI. "I would like to see the rate frozen."
Clos said he will graduate with more than $30,000 of debt. However, despite agreeing with the president on this issue Clos said he hasn't been very happy with Obama's administration and hasn't decided who he will vote for in November.
Many students like Clos will be paying off education loans for years, and still be saddled with college debt as they try to move forward with the next phase of their lives.
Zainab Khan, 26, a graduate student in the UI pharmacy program, expects to graduate with more than $50,000 in debt. She is supporting the president and feels like he is trying to address the issues that matter, even if he doesn't always succeed.
"I think it is great, but I don't think it's likely," Khan said of the effort to freeze the loan rate. "But, it's good to see him trying."
As part of Obama's visit, he held a roundtable discussion with five UI students, who are using the federal Stafford loans to help pay for their education.
While Obama was greeted by mainly supporters inside, University of Iowa College Republicans and the Iowa City branch of Americans for Prosperity organized protests.
One such student was Peter Larson, 23, a UI senior from Dubuque. Larson said rather than take out loan after loan, he tried to take a more pragmatic approach to attend school.
Larson said he attended two years of community college to cut back the costs and then worked through his college career to pay as he goes. As a result, he expects his loans to be a more manageable $20,000 at graduation.
He feels more people should take individual responsibility.
"I went in a way I could afford and didn't put myself in danger," he said.
Obama went on to declare the economy "recovered."
"The economy is recovered, although I will admit it's not fully healed from the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression," Obama said.
This was Obama's first visit to campus since 2010, when he made the University of Iowa Fieldhouse his first stop after passing his controversial health care plan.
The visit is president's second to Eastern Iowa in the last few months. He also in January.
Barack Obama was not the only Obama in Iowa. First Lady made appearances in Des Moines on Tuesday.