A line of students and Chapel Hill residents stretched for blocks Tuesday morning, as they waited to enter Carmichael Arena - the university's former basketball auditorium - to hear Obama's speech about student debt.
"It's a tremendous honor," UNC freshman Katie Thore said. "This university was chosen by the president to come and speak and not to come here would be a missed opportunity I would regret my whole life."
"I believe in what President Obama is doing and I think it's a lifetime opportunity to see a sitting president," Cary resident Terri Wilmoth said.
Obama told students that he knows something about student debt - saying he and his wife Michelle only recently paid off theirs.
"When we married, we got poor together," he said.
The interest rate on a popular federally subsidized student loan will double in July unless Congress acts. The rate hike affects new subsidized Stafford loans, which are issued to low and middle income undergraduates.
The President called on Congress to do something about it.
He also called on students to lobby lawmakers by Tweeting "#don'tdoublemyrate.
"Everybody will give lip service to this," Obama said. "But it requires not just words but deeds. Since you were born, tuition and fees to American colleges have doubled."
Obama said the high cost of education is damaging the economy.
"When a big chunk of every paycheck goes towards loan debt, that's not just tough on you, that's not just tough for middle-class families, it's not just tough on your parents -- it's painful for the economy, because that money is not going to help businesses grow," he offered.
In addition to his speech to students, the president used the school as the location for an appearance on the Late Night with Jimmy Fallon Show.
In an interview with Fallon, Obama called the current Secret Service prostitution scandal "a little distracting," but praised the agency for protecting him and his family.
"[A] couple of knuckleheads shouldn't detract from what they do," he said. "What these guys were thinking, I don't know. That's why they're not there anymore."
A dozen Secret Service personnel and another 12 military personnel preparing for Obama's visit to Cartagena, Colombia, are being investigated for cavorting with prostitutes. Six Secret Service agents have been let go over the incident.
Obama's stop in Chapel Hill is not his last word on the student loan issue. Over two days, Obama will also visit similar colleges in Colorado and Iowa. All three are in states Obama won in 2008 but are expected to be closely contested with likely Republican nominee Mitt Romney.
Romney has found a way to steal some thunder from the president's campaign argument: He agreed with it. The competitors are now on record for freezing the current interest rates on the popular federal loan for poorer and middle-class students.
The president's last trip to North Carolina was in March. He visited a truck-building factory near Charlotte.