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Government & Politics

Rubio's College Reform: Any Other Republicans Care to Engage the Issue?

Hillary has a bad plan for rising tuition costs. The GOP needs an answer.

Paul Albaugh · Aug. 19, 2015
Courtesy Gage Skidmore, Flickr

One of the many issues on voters’ minds, particularly young voters, during the 2016 election will be the rising costs of college education. While a federal government even remotely bound by the Constitution would not be involved in education at all — instead leaving such matters to the states per the Tenth Amendment — the reality is that it is involved. Naturally, the result is that we have witnessed bad policy from the feds, though it doesn’t have to be that way. Like it or not, conservative candidates need to engage in the higher education debate — they need to the counter the Big Government, top-down approach with a better alternative. And that alternative needs to first and foremost focus on Liberty.

Last week, we noted that Hillary Clinton had unveiled her plan for reducing the cost of college. In short, her plan is to confiscate $350 billion from taxpayers for redistribution to students, along with attempting to entice states to lower tuition rates.

This top-down approach to solving the high costs of college education certainly is not in the best interest of our nation, or the future of those who aspire to earn a degree. Every time the federal government proposes to spend more money on a program or policy, the cost generally goes up. And Hillary’s plan continues to, as economist Stephen Moore put it, “reward the ivory-towered, money-guzzling beast with another $350 billion.”

Yet for millennial voters specifically, the message they are hearing from Clinton and other Democrats is, “We care. We care about young voters. We want to make your lives better by making college more affordable.” End of pandering and deceitful sound bite.

The rhetoric worked with ObamaCare, so why not try to win young voters with similar rhetoric on the issue of college costs? Republicans can’t repeat the mistake of showing up to the game late. But so far there haven’t been many alternatives to challenge Clinton’s higher education reform proposal. The Republican candidates need to become engaged on this issue, but even more so they need to be able to articulate how their plan is better than any Big Government scheme.

So far at least one candidate has done so, and that is Marco Rubio. Unlike Clinton, who wants to spend more taxpayer money to supposedly fix the high costs of education, Rubio outlined a plan for modernizing higher education. Perhaps the best part of his plan is that it doesn’t raise taxes.

Rubio’s approach is different than Clinton’s in that his plan doesn’t spend more money on a system that’s already broken. Instead he proposes to address the cost of higher education by “promoting choice, competition, greater access and lower costs.”

First, he wants to fix accreditation, which would allow more institutions to become certified to provide degrees. To do this, he wants to “establish a new independent accrediting entity designed to welcome affordable and innovative education providers.” Under this part of his reform, higher education would be exposed to the market forces of choice and competition — in other words, free-market principles — which would lower education costs and provide new avenues for individuals to earn their degree or certification.

Second, Rubio calls for changing the way graduates repay their student loans. He wants to make payments “automatically proportional to a graduate’s earnings, thus reducing the financial risks of pursuing a degree.” He also proposes to allow students to partner with investors who will pay students tuition in return for a small percentage of their salary for a certain number of years following graduation.

Third, he wants to provide college applicants detailed information about how much they can earn with a degree from a certain school. This would give potential students the ability to understand whether or not a degree from a particular university — or more so a particular field of study will be worth the financial burdens or risks associated with it.

Rubio wants to make it possible for as many people in the U.S. to achieve the American Dream, rather than simply having that dream handed to them. For him, it’s about Liberty. Under his proposal there is more freedom of choice, more financial freedom and greater competition leading to higher quality. And there is no increase in spending on behalf of the federal government. Rubio’s plan empowers the individual, whereas Clinton’s plan enslaves the nation with more debt and rising costs.

To date, Rubio is the only Republican candidate to put forth a solid alternative to Clinton’s proposal. Where are the rest of the candidates on higher education reform? Certainly, there are many other pressing issues such as terrorism, immigration, abortion that the candidates want to and of course need to focus on. But the issue of the increasing costs of college must be highlighted as well, because it is directly tied to the economy. Jobs, economic growth and wages are on just about every American’s mind today, and much of that is tied to being able to afford college.

Liberals have historically done a good job selling the lie to the American people that spending more money will “fix” the problems with higher education — or whatever the problem might be. On the flip side, conservatives have insufficiently articulated better alternatives.

If conservatives want to have any chance of winning the “youth vote,” then they must be engaged in this debate. They can’t assume Hillary’s plan is so evidently terrible that voters will see through it. To do so is political insanity, and would be an outright refusal to recognize the danger of bad policies imposed on the nation. We have already been through the gambit of bad policies under the Obama administration, and we can’t afford another four years of this madness.

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