Rubio says competition needed to fix higher education system

Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio said crucial reform is needed to revise accreditation.
Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio said crucial reform is needed to revise accreditation. | File photo
The lack of competition and choice in higher education renders the current system broken, outdated and in need of reform, according to Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL).

Not only are some students paying an exorbitant amount for higher education, the degrees they earn do not lead to employment -- something Rubio hopes to change as president.

In an article highlighting the problems with the higher education system, the Florida senator and presidential hopeful criticized fellow presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s plan to raise taxes and allocate more money to the “current outdated system,” instead of modernizing it.

“I will take a different approach,” Rubio wrote. “Rather than spend more to maintain the current flawed system, I will fix higher education by promoting choice, competition, greater access and lower costs. I have proposed specific reforms that will achieve these goals throughout my time in the Senate, and I will enact them as president.”

The former speaker of the Florida House of Representatives said crucial reform is needed to revise accreditation, which is controlled by “a cartel of established colleges and universities, which use their power to block competitors from emerging.” This, Rubio said, keeps tuition costs sky-high and prevents other flexible and more accessible education providers from offering higher education to students at more affordable rates.

“As president, I will establish a new, independent accrediting entity designed to welcome affordable and innovative education providers,” Rubio wrote. “This would transform higher education by exposing it to the market forces of choice and competition, which inevitably bring down prices for consumers. It would give rise to new ways of earning a degree or certification. For example, people could finally get credit for what they learn every day using the resources all around them, such as free online tools, apprenticeships, mentorships and personal instruction.”

Rubio has also expressed concern over the widening skills gap seen in the country, and America falling behind other countries in math and literacy. In a campaign ad published on his YouTube channel, Rubio said the education system is outdated and doesn’t work in this modern age.

“The federal government is trying to take over early education and limit parents’ choices in local control," he said. "The higher (education) cartel pushes skyrocketing tuition and degrees that don’t lead to jobs."

Rubio added that he wants to promote high-skill vocational programs, and believes students need to be given the opportunity to make well-informed decisions based on realistic employment and earning expectations before they enter a higher education program.

In 2012, Rubio and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) introduced a bill entitled the “Student Right to Know Before you Go Act,” which would allow states to disseminate data informing students on what to expect from institutions they plan to attend and also what to expect upon graduation. The bill was introduced in Congress in 2013, but was not enacted.

Some of the changes Rubio hopes to make to the higher education system are influenced by his experience as a student graduating with enormous student loan debt. Rubio graduated with a law degree from the University of Miami School of Law in 1996 with more than $100,000 in loans. Despite a well-paying job as an attorney, he soon found himself struggling to make the $1,500 monthly payments required to repay his loan.

“I know what it’s like to have your biggest monthly expense be the loan payment to Sallie Mae,” Rubio wrote. “I understand this challenge, and I understand how to solve it.”

If elected, Rubio plans to establish income-based repayment (IBR) as the universal repayment method for federal student loans, allow new borrowers to make loan payments in proportion to what they earn and provide graduates with the option of consolidating existing loans into the new IBR system.