DETROIT — Officials at the University of Michigan said Thursday they hope President Barack Obama's campus speech will prompt more people to think about the importance of college affordability and its role in strengthening U.S. global competitiveness.
Obama is scheduled to arrive in the Detroit area Thursday night before his speech Friday in Ann Arbor. He's on a three-day, post-State of the Union tour of politically crucial states to promote his 2012 economic policy goals.
Last month, school President Mary Sue Coleman wrote an open letter to Obama describing the affordability of higher education as "a thorny issue that demands a national conversation." She'll be among those on hand for the speech at Al Glick Field House, the school's indoor football practice facility.
"Higher education is a public good currently lacking public support," Coleman wrote. "There is no stronger trigger for rising costs at public universities and colleges than declining state support. The University of Michigan and our state's 14 other public institutions have been ground zero for funding cuts."
Earlier this month, Republican Gov. Rick Snyder said he'll propose more spending for Michigan education in his upcoming budget proposal. Funding for state 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.
Rick Fitzgerald, a university spokesman, said the school hasn't been told specifics of what Obama will discuss. But Fitzgerald noted that efforts to cut costs and come up with other ways to make tuition more affordable have long been priorities at the school.
"It puts it more a top-of-mind topic for more and more people," Fitzgerald said of Obama's speech. "The more people who focus on this or are thinking about it or trying to come up with solutions the better off we all are."
Hundreds of students ignored darkness and cold weather to line up starting late Wednesday for tickets, which were given out Thursday. Obama was the school's May 2010 commencement speaker, making Friday's stop his second appearance at the university as president.
Republicans have said the president's travels this week are basically part of his re-election campaign. Obama kicked off his tour on Wednesday in Iowa and Arizona, pushing for tax incentives for manufacturers, and defended his energy agenda in Nevada on Thursday before a planned stop in Colorado.
"If Barack Obama wants to turn our country around I recommend he stop in Lansing and visit with Gov. Snyder and the Legislature and take a few lessons from our Republican leaders in Lansing who balanced a budget, cut taxes and paid down long term debt," Michigan Republican Chairman Bobby Schostak said in a statement.
Michigan Democratic Chairman Mark Brewer said Obama's visit is part of his presidential duties, and the president is focused on the state's future.
"This is not a campaign trip," Brewer said. "He's very hard at work on behalf of the people of Michigan on jobs and education."
The president offered a preview of his anticipated Michigan remarks during Tuesday's State of the Union speech, where he proposed to keep college affordable by yanking federal aid from colleges that don't keep tuition down and provide good value.
Obama also called on Congress to keep interest rates down on subsidized federal student loans. As he has in the past, Obama asked Congress to permanently extend a tuition tax credit that pays up to $10,000 over four years.