Rubio champions trade schools, online courses, ‘non-traditional’ learning

Alexis Levinson Political Reporter
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WASHINGTON — Sen. Marco Rubio delivered a short speech about education on Wednesday, discussing the need to modernize education for a new century and ensure that students receive the skills necessary to succeed in the changing job market.

Speaking at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce as part of a larger event on coordination between the business community and educational institutions, the likely 2016 presidential contender said that a “fundamental obstacle to economic progress is the skills gap that exists in our nation. The fact of the matter is that millions of our people do not have the skills that they need for the 21st century.”

Rubio said that many students are now older and have some work experience. (RELATED: Rubio shatters fundraising records at Iowa debut as “future” of GOP)

“For the life of me, I don’t understand why we have stigmatized career education in this country,” Rubio said.

He called for federal financial aid to be extended to non-traditional learning institutions, such as online courses or technical training, and for students to be provided with more information about potential costs and salaries before taking out a student loan.

It was a short, almost perfunctory-seeming speech, running just over 12 minutes in length. The senator did not stick around afterward, chatting only briefly with several people before making a hasty exit.

Rubio discussed education as an important factor in preserving the American middle class, a message he has seized on in his recent speeches, and one that is expected to carry over into a potential presidential run.

In speaking about education, he ventured into the territory of one of his likely 2016 competitors, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who has made it almost a signature issue of his governorship. Jindal spoke at the Brookings Institute here last month on the subject, and he has made education reform and school choice a big part of his agenda as governor.

Rubio is wary of being pigeonholed as the Hispanic, immigration-focused candidate. In media appearances, the topics that seem most to come up are immigration, and whether he is going to run for president in 2016.

Perhaps that is why the Florida senator concluded his speech with a lament at how difficult it would be to draw attention to education.

“The issue you’ve grabbed upon that you’re talking about today is a great issue because it’s not a partisan one, it’s not an ideological one. It’s a difficult one for people to disagree with you on, it makes all the sense in the world, it just requires a lot of work and prioritization,” Rubio said. “In a town constantly focused on the next crisis, if I told a cable news network that I want to go on the air to talk about this, their producers don’t get that excited. You can’t raise a lot of money off of this issue. You’re not gonna get a lot of attention by talking about this issue. And yet I can only think about a handful of other issues that we face that are as important as this one. And it’s one we need to be focused on.”

“The good news,” Rubio went on, “is it’s not partisan. The good news is that this is something there’s broad support for. The bad news is that because it’s not partisan, because it’s not controversial, it’s not getting nearly as much attention as it needs to be getting.”

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