Kerry offers college tuition plan to cheering San Diego students By: SETH HETTENA - Associated Press SAN DIEGO -- On a fund-raising swing through Southern California, Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry offered a plan to help students afford college, winning cheers from a university crowd that included many who were surprisingly energized by the Massachusetts senator. "I actually didn't think he was a very exciting speaker until I came here today," said '); // --> Daniel Nava, a 23-year-old political science major who is graduating in May. "I was afraid he would be boring ... but he did very well and I have new sense of excitement about the campaign." In a wide-ranging speech at the University of California, San Diego, Kerry said he did not want recent graduates to forgo their ideal career in order to pay off student loans. "I believe we ought to start to make it possible for no young person in America to ever have to downsize their dreams because of the cost of education," he said. Kerry proposed a $4,000 tuition tax credit and a program for recent graduates to reduce loan debt by teaching in inner city or rural schools. He also said the government would pay the full cost of in-state, four-year public colleges for any high school graduate who spends two years working with at-risk children and senior citizens. "We have too many students that I have met across the country who have told me, 'Senator, I couldn't go to the college of my choice because I couldn't afford it even though I was accepted,"' Kerry said. Kerry acknowledged that he, like President Bush, graduated around the same time from Yale University "with very different visions." He said Bush has presided over cuts in Pell grants and Perkins and Stafford loans. In a city with some of the nation's highest gas prices, Kerry said he would pressure the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries to provide more oil, simplify rules on gas to reduce costs, and develop more energy-efficient vehicles. San Diego has the nation's highest average gas prices at $2.12 a gallon. Banners hung over the crowd advertising even costlier gas. "No young American in uniform ought to ever be held hostage to America's dependence on oil from the Middle East," Kerry said After his speech, Kerry headed to a $1,000-a-plate fund-raiser at the spectacular 26,000-squarefoot seaside home of supermarket billionaire Ron Burkle, a friend and supporter of President Clinton and former California Gov. Gray Davis. Kerry was headed to Los Angeles Tuesday night for a fund-raiser at another Burkle home. Celebrities Ben Affleck, Leonardo DiCaprio and Barbra Streisand were expected to attend, with singer James Taylor performing. At UC San Diego, a dozen or so College Republicans heckled Kerry's speech, clapping their sandals together to symbolize the senator's flip-flops on the issue. Kerry stopped his speech a few times to acknowledge them. "Because they are here and open-minded, they're going to learn a lot today," Kerry said. Nick Bonomi, a 19-year-old sophomore at California State University San Marcos who sported a George W. Bush T-shirt, and said the president would be his choice in November. Bush's tax cuts helped him afford a car to drive to school and Bonomi said he was able to pay his tuition with the Hope tax credits the president doubled. Kerry, he said, "has good intentions, but I think they're wrong."