U.S. President Barack Obama visited American college campuses on Tuesday, looking for support for his plan to hold down federal student loan rates. The president is appealing to young voters, who overwhelmingly supported him in the 2008 election.
President Obama told students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill that he and his wife Michelle know what it is like to spend years paying off college loans.
"Michelle and I, we have been in your shoes," said Obama. "Like I say, we did not come from wealthy families. So when we graduated from college and law school, we had a mountain of debt. When we married, we got poor together."
The president is calling on Congress to extend a law that cuts federal student loan interest rates to 3.4 percent. Those rates will double if the law is allowed to expire July 1.
"We cannot make higher education a luxury. It is an economic imperative. Every American family should be able to afford it," Obama added.
While Obama's two-day, three-campus tour is officially a business trip, he is appealing to a core part of his voting base, in the states of North Carolina, Colorado and Iowa that could help decide this year's presidential election.
Obama urged students in North Carolina to use a phrase on the social media site Twitter to press U.S. lawmakers to extend the student loan interest rate cut.
OBAMA: "You Tweet, everybody say it, just so everybody remembers it."
AUDIENCE: "Don't double my rate."
OBAMA: "Don't double my rate.' It's pretty straightforward."
In emphasizing his personal experience, Obama drew a contrast with his likely Republican Party opponent, Mitt Romney, whose father was a wealthy auto industry executive.
But in an unusual move, Romney said Monday that he agrees with the president that low student loan interest rates should be extended.
Republican leaders in the House of Representatives say they are deciding whether to support a temporary extension.
The one-year extension would cost an estimated $6 billion.
President Obama said recently that allowing the interest rate to double would hurt more than 7 million students.
Student loan debt in the United States is higher than that for credit cards or automobile loans.
The Federal Reserve Bank of New York estimates that 15 percent of Americans, about 37 million people, owe money on student loans. The total amount of those loans is estimated to be between $870 billion and $1 trillion.