Rubio: Here’s How to Make College Affordable

The most pressing challenges outlined at a Next America event: Delivering higher ed that equips Americans — many first-generation collegians — to work in the new economy.

National Journal
Stephanie Czekalinsk
Feb. 10, 2014, 1:59 p.m.

Sen. Marco Ru­bio, R-Fla., an­nounced a pro­pos­al Monday that he said would in­crease ac­cess to high­er edu­ca­tion and of­fer stu­dents the op­por­tun­ity to fin­ance an edu­ca­tion without tak­ing on debt.

Many of Ru­bio’s sug­ges­ted re­forms, out­lined in his re­marks,  rely on mar­ket forces to con­trol costs and ex­pand ac­cess.

Two ex­amples:

* Cre­at­ing a stu­dent-in­vest­ment plan that would al­low private in­vestors to pay a stu­dent’s tu­ition in ex­change for a share of that stu­dents’ in­come over a peri­od of time.

* Over­haul­ing the way the U.S. ac­cred­its post­sec­ond­ary in­sti­tu­tions.

Both were part of the Ru­bio’s plan to provide op­tions for stu­dents to pay for their edu­ca­tion without in­cur­ring debt. Stu­dents who fin­ance their edu­ca­tion through stu­dent-in­vest­ment plans might end up pay­ing more than the ini­tial cost of their edu­ca­tion, Ru­bio said. They could also end up pay­ing less.

“Un­like with loans, you would be un­der no leg­al ob­lig­a­tion to pay back the en­tire [cost of tu­ition],” Ru­bio said. “Your only ob­lig­a­tion would be to pay that 4 per­cent of your in­come per year for 10 years, re­gard­less of wheth­er that ends up amount­ing to more or less of the” full tu­ition amount.

Ru­bio cri­ti­cized the cost of cur­rent for-cred­it on­line of­fer­ings as “com­par­able to at­tend­ing phys­ic­al classes” and pro­posed ex­pand­ing free for-cred­it classes on­line. Stu­dents would be able to get cred­it for tak­ing a free class by pay­ing a “re­l­at­ively small fee” to take a stand­ard­ized test. If they passed, that course could count to­ward a de­gree or job cer­ti­fic­a­tion, he said.

He said that the cur­rent sys­tem for col­lege ac­cred­it­a­tion was stand­ing in the way of the cre­ation of such a sys­tem and called on Con­gress to es­tab­lish a “new in­de­pend­ent ac­cred­it­ing board” that would op­er­ate in­de­pend­ently of es­tab­lished in­sti­tu­tions. He said cur­rently the sys­tem blocks out “new, in­nov­at­ive, and more af­ford­able com­pet­it­ors.” He ex­pressed en­thu­si­asm for fed­er­al le­gis­la­tion in­tro­duced last month that would give states con­trol of the ac­cred­it­a­tion pro­cess.

“Mem­bers of both parties are be­gin­ning to real­ize that for every day we delay bold ac­cred­it­a­tion re­form, our edu­ca­tion sys­tem leaves more Amer­ic­ans be­hind to lan­guish in a dwind­ling mar­ket of low-skill jobs.”

Ru­bio also called for more data for stu­dents try­ing to cal­cu­late their re­turn on in­vest­ment as they plan for col­lege. Stu­dents and their par­ents should have ac­cess to data about pro­spect­ive in­come or salary of those who gradu­ate from a par­tic­u­lar col­lege earn broken down by de­gree, he said. He ex­pressed his sup­port for fed­er­al le­gis­la­tion in­tro­duced in May that would up­date re­port­ing re­quire­ments for col­leges and uni­versit­ies to provide more data on stu­dent re­ten­tion, gradu­ation, and earn­ings out­comes.

Ad­di­tion­ally, Ru­bio called for ex­pand­ing vo­ca­tion­al and ap­pren­tice­ship train­ing and for a pi­lot pro­gram — pos­sibly with­in the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment — that would al­low people who at­tained skills out­side of classrooms or train­ing pro­grams to “prove their abil­it­ies and gain the cer­ti­fic­a­tion ne­ces­sary for em­ploy­ment.”

Ru­bio said four-year uni­versit­ies and com­munity col­leges would al­ways be cent­ral to the edu­ca­tion­al sys­tem but that more op­tions were needed be­cause not every­one can ac­cess the tra­di­tion­al mod­el.

“People should be al­lowed, 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,” he said.

Ru­bio made his re­marks at a Na­tion­al Journ­al event in Miami that drew thought lead­ers, edu­cat­ors, and stu­dents in­ter­ested in im­prov­ing out­comes for the na­tion’s com­munity-col­lege stu­dents. The event was un­der­writ­ten by the Bill and Melinda Gates, Rock­e­feller, and An­nie E. Ca­sey found­a­tions.

After his re­marks, Ru­bio fielded ques­tions from mod­er­at­ors and mem­bers of the audi­ence on top­ics ran­ging from im­mig­ra­tion re­form to med­ic­al-marijuana leg­al­iz­a­tion. Watch that portin of the ex­change be­low.

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