On Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell addressed the topic of higher education at a Shelby County Chamber of Commerce membership luncheon. Joe Arnold, political editor for WHAS-TV, tweeted some quotes from McConnell during the event.
McConnell reportedly said, "I'm not in favor of the government forgiving student loans... Nothing is free." Arnold also tweeted, "McConnell (UofL,UK grad) says 'don't get suckered into notion' you have to go to Ivy League school for good education."
McConnell has a point: When student loans are forgiven, future students are more willing to write blank checks to colleges, as they know loans will be forgiven. Thus, colleges have no incentive to lower costs. He's also right that Ivy League institutions are not the only paths to education and success. Whether it's attending an affordable college, interning and working throughout college, or pursuing alternatives to college, Americans have innumerable paths to success that don't involve the Ivy League.
McConnell isn't the only Republican with a novel approach to higher education. Last week, presidential candidate Marco Rubio released his higher education plan. Rubio's plan notes that, "[a]llowing every American the opportunity to earn an affordable degree that equips them for a modern high-paying job will be a top priority of my presidency."
Rubio addresses the problems in accreditation of higher education institutions, noting the process "is currently controlled by a cartel of established colleges and universities, which use their power to block competitors from emerging. This is why flexible online degrees often cost just as much as traditional on-campus education: because brick-and-mortar schools don’t want to compete with more accessible options."
He proposes establishing an "independent accrediting entity designed to welcome affordable and innovative education providers," in order to allow the free market to produce competition and lower prices. The exact structure is uncertain, and should be evaluated once it’s explained in more detail. He also suggests student loan payments be "automatically proportional to a graduate’s earnings," so students will have an easier time repaying loans.
Rubio also tears apart Hillary Clinton's higher education plan, noting, "not only would Hillary Clinton’s plan fail to solve the underlying problems, it would actually make the underlying problems worse." He's right. Clinton's plan increases the cost of higher education more rapidly by exacerbating existing problems, while making taxpayers foot the bill. Other Democrats have supported similar ideas. Senator Bernie Sanders has proposed free public university education.
But giving colleges blank checks removes any incentive for them to lower prices, and also removes the incentive to improve quality. Why work harder to improve your institution if you know money will come in no matter what? The GOP, at least, seems to realize that, and is prepared to offer solutions.