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Obama tells Mich. crowd schools must control costs

By David Runk

Associated Press

Published: Friday, Jan. 27 2012 1:50 p.m. MST

President Barack Obama arrives to speak at the University of Michigan's Al Glick Field House, Friday, Jan. 27, 2012, in Ann Arbor, Mich.

Carlos Osorio, Associated Press

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — President Barack Obama called Friday for colleges and universities to make education more affordable, a timely message in Michigan where schools are awaiting word about whether Gov. Rick Snyder will offer them more state support following a year of major cutbacks.

Obama said the University of Michigan is among those that have made efforts to control costs, proof that what he wants is possible. He told the crowd of about 4,000 at Al Glick Field House on the school's Ann Arbor campus that he understands how students feel because he and first lady Michelle Obama went into debt to pay for higher education.

"Since most of you were born, tuition and fees have more than doubled," Obama told the crowd, which included many students. "That forces students like you to take out more loans and rack up more debt."

Obama expanded on ideas from Tuesday's State of the Union address, seeking an overhaul of financial aid and warning that colleges and universities that fail to control rising tuition costs could lose federal funds. He said states bear a key responsibility in funding education.

"States have to do their part by making higher education a higher priority in their budgets," Obama said.

Afterward, school President Mary Sue Coleman said she welcomes the challenge from the president but notes that states must reinvest in education. She said Obama recognizes that college affordability is a complex issue that requires states, the federal government and schools to work together.

"It really pointed out what needs to be done for the future," she said. "It was very inspiring for me."

Snyder, who didn't attend the speech, told reporters Friday after addressing the Michigan Press Association in Grand Rapids that he liked some of Obama's ideas on college tuition restraint. The Republican governor declined to say whether he will recommend more state money for state universities in his upcoming budget proposal.

"I just look forward to a good dialogue with the universities on how we partner together to make sure we can work to keep tuition low, and at the same time get more graduates," Snyder said.

Funding for universities dropped by 15 percent in this year's budget, and many — including the University of Michigan — raised tuition nearly 7 percent to help make up for the lost state support. Last year, Snyder threated to impose bigger budget cuts if Michigan universities raised tuition by more than 7 percent.

"I don't view it as an adversarial situation. I think the universities are interested in controlling their costs," Snyder said.

It was the third and final day of Obama's tour of politically crucial states to promote his economic policies. In a state known for carmaking, he also talked about the U.S. auto industry's recovery and the importance of the manufacturing industry to the nation's economic recovery.

Republicans have said the president's travels this week are basically part of his re-election campaign, but the White House had denied that. Bobby Schostak, chairman of the Michigan Republican Party, called it a "political stump speech aimed at saving his job."

"Obama's message to college students was clear: He'll keep spending and leave the tab for future generations to pay," Schostak said in a statement. "That's reckless and not acceptable."

Shortly before Obama spoke, GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, a Michigan native, released an open letter to the president about his Michigan visit.

"If you have brought new ideas to Michigan for creating jobs, why have you waited three years to unveil them? Have you suddenly had a revelation, or is it because 2012 is an election year? Whatever the case, what you are offering Michigan now is too little, too late," the letter said.

Democrats, however, said Romney would have let the U.S. automakers fail and said the presidential candidate was trying to distract from progress in Michigan, including a lower unemployment rate as the manufacturing sector has improved.

"The president invested in our state and our people, and we are seeing the economy turn around and improve because of his policies, and no Romney campaign spin can change that fact," said Mark Brewer, chairman of the Michigan Democratic Party.

In Ann Arbor, the crowd was largely supportive. Hours before the address, students lined up in freezing temperatures to get inside. They chanted "Go Blue!" as they waited for the president and cheered when he called out Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson, who was on hand.

"I hear you're coming back, man," Obama said. "That is a good deal for Michigan."

Associated Press writer Kathy Barks Hoffman in Lansing contributed to this report.

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