Florida’s Rubio Offers Ideas For Higher Education Reform

Florida’s own potential presidential contender, Republican Senator Marco Rubio, spoke at an education forum at Miami Dade College last week where he called for an overhaul of the nation’s higher education system. The senator’s proposal comes as Republicans seek an alternative to President Barack Obama’s agenda to bolster the middle class, some of which touches on the same higher education issues.

“Those with the right advanced education are making more money than ever. But those who are not are falling farther and farther behind,” Rubio said at the forum. “The result is an opportunity gap developing between haves and have-nots, those who have advanced education and those who do not. And if we do not reverse that trend, we will lose the upward mobility that made America exceptional.”

Michael J. Mishak of Associated Press writes that the Florida Republican’s proposal included the mention of reforms that should include state-accredited alternatives to four year colleges, income based terms for repaying college loans and new standards for accrediting free internet courses such as Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs).

The proposed reforms would have credit from these free online courses— evaluated and overseen by an independent accrediting board — be transferable to traditional schools and eligible for federal aid, in answer to education experts who have raised several questions about the overall credibility of free online courses and for-profit colleges.
As well it was stated that workers under the proposed reform could also use their skills to earn certifications or degrees outside traditional institutions by passing new standardized tests.

“I want to add more options to the menu. And the more options we have, the more affordable it will be and the more people we’re going to be able to empower,” he told the AP in an interview before the conference, presented by National Journal.

The price tag for tuition and fees at public four-year colleges is up 27 percent beyond overall inflation over the last five years, according to the latest figures from the College Board. The average annual cost for a full-time student at a four-year public college is now $18,390, including room, board and tuition. Subtract grants and tax benefits, and it drops to $12,620.

More than 70 percent of the national college class of 2012 had loan debt at graduation, and their debt averaged $29,400, according to the most recent figures from the California-based Institute for College Access and Success.

Senator Rubio himself freely noted that he himself still owed more than $100,000 in student loans when he became a senator in 2011 and because of this also stated that students should be offered a cost-benefit analyses comparing their potential earnings to how much they will owe after earning a degree in a certain subject. Alongside this, the Senator also called for the simplification of the federal aid process and making income-based loan repayment mandatory.

He also called for the creation of “students investment plans” where private firms could cover a student’s tuition over the course of four years and then have these costs repaid at a later date as a fixed percentage of the student’s graduated income over a set period of years even it doesn’t fully cover the debt.