Cody Cousino / Multimedia editor
After making a surprise pit stop at Sloopy’s Diner on campus Tuesday morning, President Barack Obama spoke at Capital University to an eclectic crowd full of students, Republican protesters and other supporters.
It was sprinkling as an estimated crowd of 3,300 people filed into the Quad at Capital to watch the president speak at his ninth visit to Ohio this year. Meanwhile on Ohio State’s campus, Obama was being served a Reuben sandwich during his surprise visit to Sloopy’s Diner in the Ohio Union. The clouds gave way just before Obama took the stage at 1 p.m.
“I am glad we got some students here because I came to Columbus today to talk about what most of the students are doing every day,” Obama said. “Your education is the single most important investment you can make for your future.”
Obama said it wasn’t breaking news to anyone in the audience that some type of higher education – be it a four-year university, community college or technical school – was almost necessary to obtain a job. And higher education, he said, eliciting chants of “four more years,” should be available to everyone.
“Higher education is not a luxury, it’s an economic necessity,” he said.
Student loans are something Obama said he is all too familiar with, as he and first lady Michelle Obama only finished paying off their own student loans eight years ago.
“We’ve been in your shoes. Neither of us came from wealthy families, both of us graduated from law school with a mound of debt. When we got married, we got poor together,” he said. “We paid more on our student loans than we did on our mortgage and that went on for years.”
During his time in office, Obama said he has worked to raise K-12 standards so students are better prepared for college and to make financing more affordable.
About 363,000 students received Pell Grants in Ohio in 2010, and more than 44,000 of those were in Columbus, according to campaign statistics.
Ian Zinsmeister is one of those students. He recently graduated from Xavier University in Cincinnati with a degree in history and secondary education.
“I saw (former President George W.) Bush when he was in office, and seeing a sitting president is pretty special, especially a president you like,” said Zinsmeister, who was seeing Obama speak live for the first time. “Coming out of $75,000 in debt, I mean, everything that he was saying I already knew, and that’s one of the reasons I support him.”
Zinsmeister was with his mom, Kim Kennedy, who volunteers for Obama for America in Westerville, Ohio.
Obama told the crowd, primarily the students, that a degree from a university is the most important tool they have in finding a job in their field.
“Your education has never been more important,” Obama said. “This is about more than your own success, because now more than ever, your own success is America’s success.”
Nathan Cotton, a first-year in public affairs who attended the speech, said Obama’s plan for education has worked so far, and he doesn’t think we should abandon his efforts now.
“It’s nice that he cares about us and what we’re going though,” he said.
With the dynamic market today, Obama said businesses will create jobs wherever they can find the most skilled workers.
“Businesses are mobile in the 21st century. They can locate anywhere,” he said. “I don’t want them to have to look any farther than right here in Columbus, right here in Ohio.”
Obama has held 11 political events in Ohio this year, according to information from his campaign. With 18 electoral votes, Ohio is considered a battleground state in the November presidential election.
Obama kicked off his re-election campaign at the Schottenstein Center May 5. Tuesday was the president’s first visit to Columbus since May. Vice President Joe Biden and Michelle Obama, however, stopped in Columbus in July.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has not made a campaign stop in Columbus since April, when he spoke at Otterbein University, but Romney’s tour bus was parked on Capital’s campus Tuesday while Obama spoke and at OSU Monday during the Involvement Fair.
Janet Lewis, 25, a law student at the University of Louisville, said she is already $93,000 in debt with student loans and came out to support the President Tuesday. Not everyone, she said, can afford to borrow money from their parents, which is one suggestion Romney has made for students who can’t afford college on their own.
“Romney hasn’t given a solid plan (on education),” she said. “I can’t stand behind a president that can do nothing but throw other people under the bus.”
Niraj Antani, communication manager for OSU College Republicans, was at Obama’s speech Tuesday as a form of protest. He said the president did not take responsibility for his presidency.
“The president is pushing off blame on Gov. Romney,” Antani said. “The president of the United States is begging people to register to vote and support him.”
But most of those in attendance didn’t need much persuading. When Obama asked for a second term as president, the crowd erupted.
“We’ve got more jobs to create … we’ve got more doors of opportunity to open,” he said. “That’s why I’m asking for a second term as president.”
Michael Periatt and Kristen Mitchell contributed to this story.