Marco Rubio, a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, has called for a “holistic overhaul” to higher education, bringing in low-cost providers and breaking the existing “cartel” of colleges and universities.
Mr Rubio, a US senator for Florida, made higher education one of the focuses of his first major speech on domestic policy, delivered in Chicago today.
He also pitched an idea for “investors” to pay the tuition fees of students in return for a share of their earnings after graduation.
“The lesson of history is clear: to empower today’s workers, we must equip them with today’s skills,” he said. “And to do that, we need our higher education system to innovate at the same rate as our economy.”
Mr Rubio warned that despite employers reporting a lack of skills among graduates, “we still tell students that to get a degree, they have to spend four years on a campus; tens of thousands of dollars on tuition, books, room, board; and hundreds of hours in a classroom, often learning subjects that aren’t relevant to the modern economy”.
He added: “We do not need timid tweaks to the old system; we need a holistic overhaul – we need to change how we provide degrees, how those degrees are accessed, how much that access costs, how those costs are paid, and even how those payments are determined.”
And he continued: “As president, I will begin with a powerful but simple reform. Our higher education system is controlled by what amounts to a cartel of existing colleges and universities, which use their power over the accreditation process to block innovative, low-cost competitors from entering the market.
“Within my first 100 days, I will bust this cartel by establishing a new accreditation process that welcomes low-cost, innovative providers. This would expose higher education to the market forces of choice and competition, which would prompt a revolution driven by the needs of students – just as the needs of consumers drive the progress of every other industry in our economy.”
Mr Rubio, the son of Cuban immigrants who graduated from the University of Florida before studying law at the University of Miami, also said that he would give students the ability to “choose the right degree at the right price from the right institution for them. I’ve proposed an idea called the ‘Student Right to Know Before You Go Act’, which requires institutions to tell students how much they can expect to earn with a given degree before they take out the loans to pay for it.”
He also stated that he would make “student loans more manageable by making income-based repayment automatic for all graduates, so the more they make, the faster they pay back their loans; and the less they make, the less strain their loans cause”.
And Mr Rubio said that he had “proposed an idea called Student Investment Plans, which would let students partner with investors who would pay their tuition in return for a percentage of their earnings for a few years after graduation. It may result in a profit for the investor or it may not – but unlike with loans, none of the risk lies with the student.”