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Obama promises tuition tax credit

The Democratic presidential candidate recalled paying off his own mountain of student loan debt and promised struggling college students Tuesday he would help them pay for school.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama recalled paying off his own mountain of student loan debt and promised struggling college students Tuesday he would help them pay for school.

Obama said he would give students a $4,000 tax credit to help pay tuition and fees in exchange for 100 hours of community service. The campaign said the program would cost $10 billion a year.

"You get a hand living your dreams, and then you help your fellow citizens live theirs," the Illinois senator told a small group of students in a courtyard at Wayne County Community College. He listened as they told stories of balancing family demands, high fuel prices and school costs.

The event combined a couple of campaign goals, stressing Obama's plans to help Americans struggling in a tough economy while showing voters in the critical swing state of Michigan more about his modest roots.

Michigan Republicans have been trying to portray him as an elite senator out of touch with the daily struggles in the state, which has the nation's highest unemployment rate. "His two biggest accomplishments in the U.S. Senate are becoming a millionaire and running for president," GOP Rep. Mike Rogers told reporters in a conference call as Obama began a two-day visit to the state.

Obama began his speech to the students, recorded by a bank of television cameras, by telling them about his humble roots — a teenager mother and a father who left when he was two. He also told them that his wife, Michelle, had a father with multiple sclerosis who still went to work every day at the local water filtration plant.

"I was given love, and I was given support, but most importantly, I was given an education that put me on a pathway to my dreams," he said. "The same was true for Michelle.

"Unfortunately, another thing that Michelle and I have in common is that we left school with a mountain of debt," he said. "Michelle I know had at least $60,000. I had at least $60,000, so when we got together we had a lot of loans to pay. In fact, we did not finish paying them off until probably we'd been married for at least eight years, maybe nine. And like a lot of families, we were still dealing with the cost of our own education when we had to start thinking about saving for our children."

The Obamas income has spiked dramatically in recent years with high sales of his two books. They made $4.2 million, last year and Senate financial disclosure forms released Friday showed they used some of the money to buy college savings plans, valued at $100,000-$250,000 each, for their two daughters.

Earlier, he met one-on-one with dental hygiene student Marilyn Pace, who broke down in tears talking about how she is falling behind in school fee payments to pay for $4 a gallon gas to get to campus. Obama put his arm around her shoulders to comfort her and said, "You are going to make it. ... You'll be cleaning teeth in no time."