Obama Stresses Education In Ohio, Nevada

President Obama campaigned in Ohio on Tuesday. His message was personal and aimed at college students. The president said he too had been saddled with student loans, and that he understands the burden and the value of education. He also criticized his Republican rivals Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan for supporting a budget that would make deep cuts in Pell Grants and other programs important to young people. Melissa Block talks with Scott Horsley.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

President Obama is campaigning today in a pair of battleground states. And in both Ohio and Nevada, he's stressing education. The president spoke this afternoon at Capital University in Bexley, Ohio, just outside Columbus, and highlighted his administration's efforts to make college more affordable. He then tried to draw a contrast with the priorities of his Republican challenger.

NPR's Scott Horsley is traveling with the president and joins us now. And, Scott, President Obama and Mitt Romney both talk about the importance of education and a well-trained workforce. Where is the disagreement between the two?

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Well, in a word, Melissa, money. President Obama said this afternoon he's not only talked the talk about education but walked the walk, putting money into Pell Grants, tens of billions of dollars in additional Pell Grants. Also, a college opportunity tax credit that was part of the stimulus package. In contrast, he says, House Republicans approved a budget, the budget authored by Mitt Romney's new running mate Paul Ryan, that makes deep cuts in federal spending and which could put some of those educational programs in jeopardy. Romney has also said he'd allow the tuition tax credit to expire. The president says Mitt Romney doesn't understand the challenge of paying for school in the way that he does.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Making higher education more affordable for our young people, it's something I've got a personal stake in. It's something that Michelle has a personal stake in. We believe in it because we've been there, and we know that unless you provide those rungs on the ladder of opportunity, young people who are more talented than we are may not get a shot.

HORSLEY: Mr. Obama mocked his Republican opponent for suggesting that students simply shop around for a cheaper school or borrow money from their parents. He said pointedly, not everyone has parents with the money to lend.

BLOCK: Scott, I'm looking right now at an online calculator that the Obama campaign has rolled out. It meant to showcase savings in college costs. It says, see if you qualify for pay as you earn. What's that about?

HORSLEY: Well, this is a program the administration started to make it easier for graduates to repay student loan debt by capping their monthly bills at 10 percent of discretionary income. And this new debt calculator lets you plug in your debt and figure out if this is something that would work for you. It's one of several of these online calculators the campaign has rolled out. There's also one on taxes.

Last week, when the president was on his Iowa bus tour, at every stop, there would be some middle-class person explaining how they'd punch their numbers in and were surprised at just how much money the Obama administration had saved them on their taxes.

But, you know, Melissa, one thing that you find when you talk to voters is they don't always make their decisions on political questions in these straightforward, rational ways. The calculus that goes into a voting booth is more complex than any computer algorithm.

BLOCK: Now, Scott, the president moved on from Ohio to Nevada where he's also campaigning today at a community college, another battleground state but a very different economic picture in Nevada than in Ohio.

HORSLEY: Yeah, it really is kind of the opposite extremes. Nevada has the highest unemployment rate in the country. It jumped last month to 12 percent. That state's been very hard hit by the housing bust. Ohio, on the other hand, has an unemployment rate now of just 7.2 percent, kind of in the middle effect and much better than the national average. Ohio added 11,000 jobs last month. That's more than Nevada added in the whole year. So these are both competitive states, but the argument that Mr. Obama can make that he's made things better is an easier sale in Ohio than in Nevada.

BLOCK: The president, as we mentioned, is speaking to young audiences today. What kind of reaction is he getting?

HORSLEY: Well, Mr. Obama made a very explicit appeal for the support of young people. He's joked about his graying hair, that he might not be the icon that he was four years ago. But he dropped by the student union at Ohio State University and made a pitch for student support there. And I talked to one young woman who said, you know, now that she's met him, she's going to vote for Obama. So that's one.

(LAUGHTER)

BLOCK: That's NPR's Scott Horsley traveling with President Obama today in Ohio and Nevada. Scott, thanks so much.

HORSLEY: My pleasure.

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