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Ryan, who prefers that students take loans instead of receiving grants, would keep the top Pell Grant award in the coming school year at $5,500 but in future years reduce the number of students eligible, not the award sums. In other words, fewer students would receive them but the neediest would not see their awards changed.

More than 9.7 million students are expected to get grants for the academic year that is about to begin.

Ryan’s spokesman dismissed the criticism as a distraction from Obama’s record. “Under President Obama, the costs of college have skyrocketed — making it more difficult for students to attend college — and his economic policies have made it harder for graduates to get jobs,” Brendan Buck said. “Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan have a plan for a stronger middle class to get our economy back on track and ensure that young Americans — and all Americans — have the brighter future they deserve.”

Young voters overwhelmingly favored Obama in 2008, and he continues to enjoy a sizable lead in polls — although not as wide as four years ago. Their parents are less convinced, and they are as much Obama’s audience as their children.

“I think I remember reading something about Ryan trying to cut money for college. Andrew goes back to school pretty soon. We sure need that Pell Grant,” a voter says in one ad.

Another announcer continues, “The Romney-Ryan budget plan would cut $14 million in federal education funding for New Hampshire.”