Rubio: Here's How to Make College Affordable

The most pressing challenges outlined at a Next America event: Delivering higher ed that equips Americans — many first-generation collegians — to work in the new economy.

{{ BIZOBJ (video: 4723) }}

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., announced a proposal Monday that he said would increase access to higher education and offer students the opportunity to finance an education without taking on debt.

Many of Rubio's suggested reforms, outlined in his remarks,  rely on market forces to control costs and expand access.

Two examples:

* Creating a student-investment plan that would allow private investors to pay a student's tuition in exchange for a share of that students' income over a period of time.

* Overhauling the way the U.S. accredits postsecondary institutions.

Both were part of the Rubio's plan to provide options for students to pay for their education without incurring debt. Students who finance their education through student-investment plans might end up paying more than the initial cost of their education, Rubio said. They could also end up paying less.

"Unlike with loans, you would be under no legal obligation to pay back the entire [cost of tuition]," Rubio said. "Your only obligation would be to pay that 4 percent of your income per year for 10 years, regardless of whether that ends up amounting to more or less of the" full tuition amount.

Rubio criticized the cost of current for-credit online offerings as "comparable to attending physical classes" and proposed expanding free for-credit classes online. Students would be able to get credit for taking a free class by paying a "relatively small fee" to take a standardized test. If they passed, that course could count toward a degree or job certification, he said.

He said that the current system for college accreditation was standing in the way of the creation of such a system and called on Congress to establish a "new independent accrediting board" that would operate independently of established institutions. He said currently the system blocks out "new, innovative, and more affordable competitors." He expressed enthusiasm for federal legislation introduced last month that would give states control of the accreditation process.

"Members of both parties are beginning to realize that for every day we delay bold accreditation reform, our education system leaves more Americans behind to languish in a dwindling market of low-skill jobs."

Rubio also called for more data for students trying to calculate their return on investment as they plan for college. Students and their parents should have access to data about prospective income or salary of those who graduate from a particular college earn broken down by degree, he said. He expressed his support for federal legislation introduced in May that would update reporting requirements for colleges and universities to provide more data on student retention, graduation, and earnings outcomes.

Additionally, Rubio called for expanding vocational and apprenticeship training and for a pilot program — possibly within the federal government — that would allow people who attained skills outside of classrooms or training programs to "prove their abilities and gain the certification necessary for employment."

Rubio said four-year universities and community colleges would always be central to the educational system but that more options were needed because not everyone can access the traditional model.

"People should be allowed, through internships and work study and online courses and classroom courses and life and work experience, to be able to package all of that together into the equivalent of a degree," he said.

Rubio made his remarks at a National Journal event in Miami that drew thought leaders, educators, and students interested in improving outcomes for the nation's community-college students. The event was underwritten by the Bill and Melinda Gates, Rockefeller, and Annie E. Casey foundations.

After his remarks, Rubio fielded questions from moderators and members of the audience on topics ranging from immigration reform to medical-marijuana legalization. Watch that portin of the exchange below.

{{ BIZOBJ (video: 4722) }}