"[This] is going to be one of the most important issues that not just you face, but this entire country faces: How can we make sure that everybody is getting the kind of education they need to personally succeed but also to build up this nation," Obama told an audience at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, "because in this economy, there is no greater predictor of individual success than a good education."
A college degree is the best tool one can have to achieve the American promise that "if you work hard, if you are applying yourself, if you are doing the right thing, you can do well enough to raise a family and own a home and send your own kids to college, put away a little for retirement, create products or services -- be part of something that is adding value to this country and maybe changing the world," Obama said. "That's what you're striving for. That's what the American Dream is all about."
He repeated his State of the Union call to Congress to extend tuition tax credits and double the number of work-study jobs over the next five years.
He also repeated his challenge to universities not to constantly raise tuition.
"Look, we can't just keep on subsidizing skyrocketing tuition. If tuition is going up faster than inflation, faster than even healthcare is going up, no matter how much we subsidize it, sooner or later, we're going to run out of money," Obama said.
"We are putting colleges on notice. … You can't assume that you'll just jack up tuition every single year. If you can't stop tuition from going up, then the funding you get from taxpayers each year will go down. We should push colleges to do better. We should hold them accountable if they don't."
Obama also challenged states to restore funding for higher education and announced a "Race to the Top" competition to encourage college affordability.
"We're telling the states, if you can find new ways to bring down the cost of college and make it easier for more students to graduate, we'll help you do it," Obama said. "We will give you additional federal support if you are doing a good job of making sure that all of you aren't loaded up with debt when you graduate from college."
Obama also touched on other issues from his State of the Union address Tuesday, including energy independence and security, revamping the tax code for businesses and individuals, extending the payroll tax cut for the full year and taxing millionaires to help lower the federal deficit.
"We've got to choose," he said. "When it comes to paying our fair share, I believe we should follow the [U.S. billionaire] Warren Buffett rule. If you make more than $1 million a year, then you should pay a tax rate of at least 30 percent. On other hand … if you make less than $250,000 … then your taxes shouldn't go up."
While giving shout-outs to political dignitaries attending the speech, Obama also recognized Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson.
"I hear you're coming back, man," Obama said. "That is a good deal for Michigan."
When a member of the audience shouted "Denard Robinson in 2012," Obama told the star quarterback, "They're trying to draft you for president."
To the audience, Obama said, "He's got to graduate before he runs for president. There's an age limit."