Affordability of college becomes campaign fodder

Some Republicans have objected to another temporary measure to extend the lower rates without cutting spending to pay for them.

“I have serious concerns about any proposal that simply kicks the can down the road and creates more uncertainty in the long run, which is what put us in this situation in the first place,” said Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.

But letting the rates jump to 6.8 percent–a move that would add more than $1,000 to the cost of the average loan–would be politically difficult in the middle of an election year. A senior GOP staff member said Republicans were studying ways to extend the program.

In the meantime, Obama plans to begin applying pressure on the issue with a trip to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, whose students took part in protests over tuition hikes just two months ago. He plans stops in two more swing states, visiting the University of Colorado at Boulder and the University of Iowa.

Young voters were a key group that helped carry Obama to victory four years ago, and campaign strategists have been eager to rekindle enthusiasm among them.

So in battleground states, his campaign is planning to focus on the issue of college costs. In New Hampshire, for example, Obama campaign volunteers will hold phone banks on college affordability at more than two dozen locations this week, including a voter registration drive at a “Campus Day of Action” on April 28.

In Nevada, the campaign will host a roundtable discussion on college affordability for the state’s Latinos, another key voting group.

The campaign is highlighting policies they say Obama has taken to increase access to higher education, including expanding Pell Grants and capping loan payments to 10 percent of a graduate’s monthly income.

Republicans, for their part, are firing back by focusing on unemployment and underemployment among recent college graduates. An analysis of polling by Resurgent Republic, a Republican group, found that young voters tended to be more negative about the direction of the country than older Americans.