Marco Rubio: Higher-Ed Makeover Would Improve Upward Mobility

The senator talks about how to help more people get college degrees, student-loan forgiveness, and more.

Sen. Marco Rubio speaks at a National Journal Next America event in Miami Fla. 
2012
Ronald Brownstein
Add to Briefcase
See more stories about...
Ronald Brownstein
March 11, 2014, 1 a.m.

In Feb­ru­ary, Sen. Marco Ru­bio pro­posed a series of high­er-edu­ca­tion re­forms de­signed to ex­pand ac­cess and re­strain costs. His mar­ket-ori­ented pro­pos­als in­cluded a plan to al­low private in­vestors to pay stu­dents’ tu­ition in re­turn for a share of their fu­ture in­come, and an al­tern­at­ive ac­cred­it­a­tion pro­cess in­ten­ded to nur­ture more com­pet­it­ors to tra­di­tion­al two- and four-year in­sti­tu­tions. The Flor­ida Re­pub­lic­an spoke about his ideas with At­lantic Me­dia Ed­it­or­i­al Dir­ect­or Ron­ald Brown­stein and Mari­ana Aten­cio, an an­chor at the Fu­sion net­work, at a Na­tion­al Journ­al Next Amer­ica event in Miami. Ed­ited ex­cerpts fol­low.

You have talked about how the ideas of up­ward mo­bil­ity and ac­cess to edu­ca­tion are in­ter­woven in Amer­ic­an his­tory. And yet stud­ies show young people are less likely to ob­tain more edu­ca­tion than their par­ents here than in any oth­er ma­jor in­dus­tri­al­ized coun­try. What will it take to re­verse that?

What makes us ex­cep­tion­al is not the size of our eco­nomy or our mil­it­ary; it is that we’ve al­ways prided ourselves as a people where you’re not trapped in the cir­cum­stances of your birth. And there are now oth­er coun­tries that, stat­ist­ic­ally speak­ing, provide more up­ward mo­bil­ity than Amer­ica does.

One of the reas­ons that’s hap­pen­ing is be­cause, in the 21st cen­tury, the jobs that people used to use to get to the middle class in­creas­ingly are dif­fi­cult to find if you don’t have some sort of ad­vanced edu­ca­tion. The prob­lem we have is that right now for many stu­dents, the only ad­vanced edu­ca­tion avail­able to them is the tra­di­tion­al four-year col­lege route. That can’t be the only mod­el.

You fo­cus on us­ing mar­ket forces to cre­ate new op­tions for stu­dents. The for-profit mod­el in high­er edu­ca­tion has pro­duced mixed res­ults at best. How would you main­tain qual­ity and en­sure that stu­dents are be­ing served if you’re bring­ing in a lot of new play­ers?

I don’t think you start right away by say­ing, “Here’s the flow of fed­er­al dol­lars that will go to you.” You need to gain con­fid­ence that this al­tern­at­ive meth­od of learn­ing is real and not simply a way to churn more stu­dent loans and grants out of people’s pock­ets. You would need to cre­ate pi­lot pro­grams, meas­ure their re­sponses, learn from them, and, from that, cre­ate the con­fid­ence be­fore you made fed­er­al dol­lars avail­able.

But what frus­trates me is that [al­tern­at­ive] learn­ing is already out there. You can already take an eco­nom­ics course from MIT or Har­vard or Stan­ford on­line. But you can’t get cred­it for it to­ward a cer­ti­fi­able de­gree un­less you’re en­rolled in a de­gree pro­gram at a col­lege that will pack­age it for you. What I’m say­ing is that people should be al­lowed to learn through in­tern­ships and work study and on­line courses and classroom courses and life and work ex­per­i­ence — to be able to pack­age all of that to­geth­er in­to the equi­val­ent of a de­gree. So that’s what we’re go­ing to try to cre­ate a sys­tem for.

Would you al­low stu­dent-loan con­sumers to be pro­tec­ted by bank­ruptcy?

I think we have to ex­am­ine that, but we should be care­ful about it too, only be­cause I think that can make it harder for oth­ers to ac­cess loans in the fu­ture if the lend­ing be­comes un­col­lect­ible. I think a bet­ter ap­proach is to al­low people to pay back based on how much money they make, be­cause that will in­centiv­ize people to con­tin­ue pay­ing the loans rather than to go in­to de­fault, which will dam­age their cred­it.

Also, I think more stu­dents and par­ents, when they’re ap­ply­ing for a loan, de­serve to know how much people who gradu­ate from this school with your de­gree make, so you can de­cide if it’s worth it to take out a $100,000 loan for that de­gree.

Would you ever go as far as to con­sider stu­dent-loan for­give­ness?

We have that now in some tar­geted and spe­cial­ized fields, and that’s a concept that should be per­haps ex­pan­ded in some unique cir­cum­stances. I would be wary about say­ing you’re go­ing to for­give massive num­bers of stu­dent loans be­cause I think that would make fu­ture stu­dent-loan lend­ing much more dif­fi­cult.

You spear­headed im­mig­ra­tion re­form. Are you frus­trated with your own party?

When we did this [in the Sen­ate] last year, the biggest ques­tion I would get from people is, “We un­der­stand that we have to do something; we think they’ll do the leg­al­iz­a­tion, but they’ll nev­er do the en­force­ment.” That’s only got­ten more pro­nounced in the last year. That’s a real hurdle, and it keeps people in Con­gress from sup­port­ing a change in the law.

Stephanie Czekalinsk contributed to this article.
What We're Following See More »
ANOTHER GOP MODERATE TO HER SIDE
John Warner to Endorse Clinton
10 hours ago
THE LATEST

"Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton will score another high-powered Republican endorsement on Wednesday, according to a campaign aide: retired senator John Warner of Virginia, a popular GOP maverick with renowned military credentials."

Source:
AUTHORITY OF EPA IN QUESTION
Appeals Court Hears Clean Power Plant Case
10 hours ago
THE LATEST

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on Tuesday "heard several hours of oral arguments" over the Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan rules. The 10-judge panel "focused much of their questioning on whether the EPA had overstepped its legal authority by seeking to broadly compel this shift away from coal, a move the EPA calls the Best System of Emission Reduction, or BSER. The states and companies suing the EPA argue the agency doesn’t have the authority to regulate anything outside of a power plant itself."

Source:
$28 MILLION THIS WEEK
Here Come the Ad Buys
10 hours ago
THE LATEST

"Spending by super PACs tied to Donald Trump friends such as Ben Carson and banker Andy Beal will help make this week the general election's most expensive yet. Republicans and Democrats will spend almost $28 million on radio and television this week, according to advertising records, as Trump substantially increases his advertising buy for the final stretch. He's spending $6.4 million in nine states, part of what aides have said will be a $100 million television campaign through Election Day."

Source:
GOP REFUSED VOTE ON FCC COMMISIONER
Reid Blocks Tech Bill Over “Broken Promise”
15 hours ago
THE DETAILS

Monday night's debate may have inspired some in Congress, as Senate Minority Leader has decided to take a stand of his own. Reid is declining to allow a vote on a "bipartisan bill that would bolster U.S. spectrum availability and the deployment of wireless broadband." Why? Because of a "broken promise" made a year ago by Republicans, who have refused to vote on confirmation for a Democratic commissioner on the Federal Communications Commission to a second term. Harry Reid then took it a step further, invoking another confirmation vote still outstanding, that of Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland.

Source:
FLINT FUNDING STILL AT ISSUE
Spending Bill Fails to Clear 60-Vote Hurdle
17 hours ago
THE LATEST
×