How Do We Knock Out The Higher Education ‘Cartel’? Sen. Rubio Has Some Ideas

Hannah Bleau Contributor
Font Size:

WASHINGTON — Something needs to be done about the “higher education cartel.” At least, that’s what Sen. Marco Rubio says.

There are massive problems surrounding higher education in America, but there are many sensible conservative solutions, he said in a speech Wednesday co-hosted by Hillsdale College and YG network. The Florida senator laid out a three-fold reform plan, including changing the accreditation process, implementing income pace repayment and creating student investment plans– an alternative to student loans.

“We also see the erosion of the American dream in the lives of many young Americans including many recent college graduates,” Rubio said. “Their generation is coming of age in an era of over expectations where too often caps and gowns come — not just with hope and excitement — but also with dread and apprehension. Many did everything they were told was necessary to succeed. But now they sit in their childhood bedrooms, under the weight of thousands in student loans unable to start a career or a family.”

The first conservative solution to what Rubio calls the “higher education cartel” is an independent accrediting process. By taking accreditation out of the hands of centralized authorities,  the cost of education would substantially decrease.

“I have proposed that Congress establish a new independent accrediting process designed to open the door for more innovative and affordable schools,” Rubio said. “And I proposed ways to help Christine package the free tools all around her and to an employable degree. Tools such as online resources, apprenticeships, mentorships and personal study.”

Rubio used real-life examples to demonstrate the need for crucial changes in higher education. He talked about Christine, a single mother who has been simultaneously working a full-time job and trying to get an education. Rubio said many Americans are in this predicament, and the current system is failing them.

“The online courses that Christine was taking, by the way, are actually more expensive than the cost of physically attending your local community college,” Rubio said. “Even if she received financial help, she couldn’t find an option that allowed her enough flexibility to work full-time and raise her family. And the reason for all of this is an outdated process called accreditation. A school must be accredited to award degrees that provide financial aid. But here’s the catch. Established institutions control the crediting process and as a result, the entrenched higher education cartel has the power to block out innovative, lower cost competitors.”

Because the first educational reform won’t directly affect students who have already earned a degree, the student loan bubble needs to be addressed in a realistic way as well.

“Second, I proposed an income pace repayment,” Rubio said. “The automatic repayment method for student loans. This way, Evan’s loan payments would be directly correlated to how much he earns each month, removing the risk of default.”

“The third, I have proposed an alternative to student loans called student investment plans,” Rubio continued. “Students would be able to enter into an agreement with a private firm in which the firm pays for the student’s education in a return for a percentage of their salary for a set number of years after graduation. Modern reforms that lead to economic growth and increase education options would benefit all Americans.”

While conservatives have many ideas to spur economic growth, Rubio says that tax and regulatory reforms will only assist struggling graduates to a certain extent.

“But creating jobs alone is not going to be enough,” Rubio said. “Young Americans still need to be able to acquire skills without also acquiring a lifetime of student loan debt. … Now as I mentioned before, the first step to making college more affordable is allowing more innovation and competition in higher education. So you don’t have to borrow that much to begin with. But we also need to think of easier ways to pay for it and to plan for it — the cost of the degree.”

In addition, some students are graduating with degrees with limited job markets — like Greek philosophy, for example — and wondering why they cannot get a job. Because of this problem, Rubio says schools should be required to show students the average salary of graduates who obtained the same degree the student is pursuing.

“I filed bipartisan legislation with Sen. Ron Wyden that would require schools to tell students how much their graduates earn with their chosen degree,” Rubio said.

Rubio says the current system of higher education is simply outdated. Students are burdened with thousands of dollars of student loans, but the federal government continues to fund this system, and it will inevitably break.

“Instead of taking steps to make higher education more available and more affordable, we pour resources into a system that is expensive, inaccessible, and quite frankly is graduating way to many people with unemployable degrees,” Rubio said.

“The big-government solution for the cost of higher education is to slightly lower the monthly payment on existing student loans,” Rubio continued. “But instead of short-term units like this, a better approach would be to implement the reforms I outlined earlier this year that would both lower cost and encourage the creation of more affordable and accessible routes to higher education and to a degree.”