Obama launching college affordability bus tour

Associated Press
FILE - In this Aug. 13, 2012, file photo, President Barack Obama's armored bus that will tour Iowa pulls up next to Air Force One, at Offutt Air Force Base in Bellevue, Neb. In 2011, the Secret Service purchased the $1.1 million bus for Obama’s first bus tour as president. The impenetrable-looking black bus has dark tinted windows and flashing red and blue lights. Obama is launching a two-day bus tour on Thursday, Aug. 22, 2013, through New York and Pennsylvania to tout proposals for making college more affordable, a goal he has cast as "a personal mission." (AP Photo/Dave Weaver, File)
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FILE - In this Aug. 13, 2012, file photo, President Barack Obama's armored bus that will tour Iowa pulls up next to Air Force One, at Offutt Air Force Base in Bellevue, Neb. In 2011, the Secret Service purchased the $1.1 million bus for Obama’s first bus tour as president. The impenetrable-looking black bus has dark tinted windows and flashing red and blue lights. Obama is launching a two-day bus tour on Thursday, Aug. 22, 2013, through New York and Pennsylvania to tout proposals for making college more affordable, a goal he has cast as "a personal mission." (AP Photo/Dave Weaver, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama is launching a two-day bus tour through New York and Pennsylvania to promote proposals for making college more affordable, a goal he has cast as "a personal mission."

While the details of Obama's plans are still unknown, officials said the president will call for changes in the way college is paid for, with the understanding that government assistance alone cannot keep up with skyrocketing education costs. According to Obama administration estimates, average tuition costs at four-year public colleges have more than tripled over the last three decades.

The bus tour, set to begin Thursday, underscores the White House's desire to stay focused on domestic issues, even as foreign policy crises in Egypt and Syria vie for his attention. Throughout the summer, the White House has been seeking to keep the president's public agenda centered on middle-class economic issues as a way to rally public support for his positions ahead of looming fiscal battles with congressional Republicans.

Obama, in an email to supporters this week, said a big part of middle-class security includes fundamentally rethinking how to pay for higher education.

"Just tinkering around the edges won't be enough," Obama said. "We've got to shake up the current system."

The president previously has called for changes in the college funding structure that would move federal financial aid away from colleges that fail to keep tuition down and toward those that take steps to keep costs in check. He also has proposed a $1 billion college "Race to the Top" competition that would reward states that make significant changes in higher education policies while also containing tuition costs.

The backdrop for the president's rollout will be colleges and high schools throughout New York state and Pennsylvania. He'll hold his first event Thursday morning at the University of Buffalo before traveling by armored bus to Henninger High School in Syracuse, N.Y. The president will hold a town hall Friday at Binghamton University, then travel to Scranton, Pa., for an event at Lackawanna College.

Vice President Joe Biden, a Scranton native, is scheduled to join Obama in his hometown. Biden spent much of the week in Houston, where his son Beau underwent a medical procedure at a cancer center.

For Obama, who has made no secret of his desire to get out of Washington when he can, the bus tours have become a favorite method for reconnecting with the public. Beyond his official events, the president often makes unscheduled stops at local restaurants and businesses, and sometimes pulls off on the side of the road to greet cheering crowds.

In 2011, the Secret Service purchased a $1.1 million bus for Obama's first bus tour as president. The impenetrable-looking black bus has dark tinted windows and flashing red and blue lights.

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Follow Julie Pace on Twitter at http://twitter.com/jpaceDC

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