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President Barack Obama told thousands of students at the University of North Carolina on Tuesday that he wants Congress to keep the costs of a college education in check, reaching out to young people in a state expected to figure heavily in his re-election bid.
Obama was greeted by a full Carmichael Arena at UNC-Chapel Hill after flying in to Raleigh-Durham International Airport for the first stop of a two-day swing to three university campuses in states that the president won in 2008 and are now considered swing states.
Obama won North Carolina's 15 electoral votes in 2008 by only a 14,000-vote margin.
Obama wants to build support for getting Congress to extend low-interest rates on Stafford loans before rates double this summer from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent. Likely Republican rival Mitt Romney said on the eve of Obama's trip he also wants to prevent the rates from increasing in a law approved by the Democratic-controlled Congress in 2007.
Obama said his administration already has reformed student loan programs to ensure more money goes directly to students, but more must be done. If the Stafford loan interest rate should double, he said, each student on average will see an additional $1,000 in payments.
"We have to make college more affordable," Obama told the crowd estimated at 8,000. "We've got to make sure that you're not saddled with debt before you even get started in life."
The president, who has made at least a dozen appearances in North Carolina since taking office, would benefit from improving relations with a new crop of college students who weren't old enough to vote four years ago. Obama told how he and wife Michelle just finish paying off their college loans about eight years ago.