Speaking to a rowdy crowd at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the president said he understands the financial burdens students face. "Michelle and I, we've been in your shoes," Obama said. "We didn't come from wealthy families. When we graduated from college and law school, we had a mountain of debt. When we married, we got poorer together."
While the president did not call out the presumptive GOP nominee by name, he drew a sharp contrast between his background and that of Mitt Romney, who comes from a wealthier family. "This is something Michelle and I know about firsthand," Obama said. "I didn't just read about this… I didn't just get some talking points about this. I didn't just get a policy briefing on this."
"Check this out, all right? I'm the president of the United States. We only finished paying off our student loans about eight years ago," he said to laughter from the crowd of roughly 8,000. "That wasn't that long ago."
While young voters still overwhelmingly support the president - Obama enjoys a substantial 60 to 34 percent lead over Romney - their interest has waned since 2008.
According to an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, 63 percent of 18- to 34-year-olds took a major interest in the election in 2008. Today, just 45 percent have the same level of interest in this presidential election.
Obama is spending Tuesday and Wednesday visiting three key battleground states to push for low-rate college loans, wooing young voters while targeting a financial burden that hits the middle class and threatens the economic recovery.
In North Carolina Obama urged lawmakers to extend a 2007 law that cut student loan rates to 3.4 percent. If Congress does not act, interest rates will double to 6.8 percent on July 1.
"For each year that Congress doesn't act, the average student with these loans will rack up an additional thousand dollars in debt," the president said. "That's basically a tax hike for more than 7 million students across America, more than 160,000 students here in North Carolina alone."
Obama is expected to make a similar argument at stops in Colorado and Iowa.
While Romney has come out in support of the extension, the president targeted Republican lawmakers who oppose the measure. "Republicans who run Congress right now have not yet said whether or not they'll stop your rates from doubling. We're two months away," Obama said, asking those watching to call, email or tweet their members of Congress.
The White House maintains the president's trip this week is purely official business, but it was hard to ignore Obama's campaign cadence as he riled up what appeared to be a largely supportive crowd.
"The fact is that since most of you were born, tuition and fees at America's colleges have more than doubled. That forces students like you to take out a lot more loans. There are fewer grants. You rack up more debt. Can I get an amen?" the president asked.
"Amen!" the crowd cheered.
"The average student who borrows to pay for college now graduates with about $25,000 in student loan debt. That's the average. Some are more. Can I get an amen for that?" Obama asked again.
"Amen!" the students replied.