RENO - President Barack Obama stirred up a crowd of 2,100, mostly students, Tuesday by vowing to make college education available for everyone, while contending Mitt Romney would cut grants to more than 1 million students.
Obama called higher education the "pathway to the middle class." He said he and his wife, Michelle, did not come from rich families but with grants and loans finished both college and law school and ended up in good jobs.
"A college education should be available for everyone, not just wealthy people," he said.
He said Romney has no education plan and consequently won't talk much about the value of education in his campaign. To finance $5 billion in tax cuts that he wants to give to the wealthy, Romney will make you pay more, the president told the audience at Truckee Meadows Community College.
He was interrupted frequently by shouts of "four more years , four more years, four more years."
The visit was Obama's third to Reno since May.
Obama gave a similar speech during a campaign stop in Columbus, Ohio, earlier in the day.
After his Reno speech, he flew to Nellis Air Force Base to make his 13th stop in Las Vegas since taking office. About 40 military personnel and civilians waited on the tarmac to greet him when Air Force One touched down at 7:10 p.m. Obama speaks today at Canyon Springs High School in North Las Vegas.
Addressing students in Reno, Obama told them acquiring a good education is not only important to them but also to America.
"Countries that out-educate us today will defeat us competitively tomorrow," he said.
He noted Romney recently said students should look to their parents for college money or to shop around for the best loans. Obama said many parents cannot help their children with college costs. His mother received loans and grants that allowed her to go to college while still caring for two children with help from her parents.
The president was introduced by 18-year-old Alejandra Hernandez Chavez, a freshman at the University of Nevada, Reno. Chavez said after the Obama speech that she is attending college with help from a $5,550 Pell Grant. Chavez - an American citizen born in Mexico - expressed doubt that she could attend college without the grant.
Pell Grants are one of the college awards that Romney's running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, has mentioned might be reduced in a Romney administration, although not in the first year.
Chavez said she sat next to Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., during the president's speech and got a chance to chat briefly with Obama. Obama and Reid are "cool guys," she added.
Earlier Tuesday, Reps. Mark Amodei and Joe Heck, both R-Nev., never mentioned Obama by his name in addressing a crowd of 50 while standing in front of a "Romney for President" bus in Reno. They also said nothing about education.
Instead they called the president Reno's "special guest" or "guest." Heck told supporters that the president will reduce the Medicare program by $716 billion to finance the costs of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, while Amodei said jokingly the president is running "novocaine campaign."
But neither told the crowd that Republicans also plan to cut Medicare. In a brief news conference after the rally, Heck said Medicare with go belly up in 12 years unless costs are reduced. He called the Affordable Care Act a social experiment that should be repealed.
In his address to the students, Obama didn't mention Medicare or his health care plan.
Under the Republican plan advocated by Ryan, people within 10 years of retirement would experience no changes in Medicare. But younger people could receive vouchers that might not cover all of their future medical costs.
Heck said those recipients would have a choice between receiving traditional Medicare or new plans that would fit their needs. Democrats have complained those plans will force senior citizens to pay as much as $6,400 of their health care costs because the government will not provide enough money to cover future costs of health care. Republicans have challenged that figure.
"People can pick the plan that is best for them," said Heck, a former physician, told reporters. "There is no such thing as no-cost medical service. Someone has to pay the bill."
Review-Journal reporter Trevon Milliard contributed to this report. Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at email@example.com or 775-687-3900.