When Sen. Marco Rubio was growing up, his parents gave him an edict:
“From a very early age they used to tell us, ‘tu tienes que estudiar,’ which means, ‘you have to study.’ So growing up I don’t ever recall not considering going to college,” Rubio told an audience at Miami-Dade College on Monday.
Rubio talked at length about his education with a crowd of students, advocates and press at a summit presented by The National Journal on Monday. He used his speech to outline what he calls the “growing opportunity gap” and explain what he would do to change higher education.
Rubio described how, once he graduated from the University of Miami’s law school, he was surprised he couldn’t afford the repayments on his $100,000 student loan.
“One of the central problems of our outdated higher education system is that it has become increasingly unaffordable for those who stand to benefit the most,” he said.
And even if students can afford it, Rubio thinks traditional college isn’t a good investment for everyone.
“We are trying to prepare people for the new economy using a higher education system built for the old economy,” he said.
Some of his suggestions for changing higher education:
- Consolidate higher education tax benefits for families. “Representative [Aaron] Schock and I have proposed a bill to update and consolidate higher education tax incentives into one simple, easy-to-understand tax credit.“
- Allow students to see the employment and salary statistics for graduates of different majors. “Not all college majors have the same success rate when it comes to connecting students with good jobs. … This is why I, along with Senator Ron Wyden, proposed the Student Right to Know Before You Go Act, which aims to give students reliable data on how much they can expect to make versus how much they can expect to owe.”
- Change the way schools are regulated so that it would be easier for online and start-up schools to get accredited. “We have a broken accreditation system that favors established institutions while blocking out new, innovative and more affordable competitors. … Congress could establish a new independent accrediting board to ensure the quality of these free courses and make the credits transferable into the traditional system.”
While education was the focus of the event, it wasn’t the only policy he discussed.
Before Rubio took the podium to address the opportunity gap, a small group of about 20 people stood outside the lecture hall calling for a reduction in the growing wage gap.
“Rubio, we want minimum wage, we want it now” the group chanted, calling for a higher minimum wage.
Rubio has consistently opposed any increase to the minimum wage, calling it a “stale” tool to improve the economic well being of the country.
“I think a better alternative is to have an economy that’s growing faster,” Rubio said walking into the afternoon’s event. “Another better alternative would be what I’ve proposed in terms of wage enhancements, by restructuring the earned income tax credits,” he added.
The goal of his proposal is to make lower paying jobs more attractive, deterring people from seeking unemployment insurance. It is one of a series of initiatives Rubio is expected to roll out to combat the challenges of a struggling middle class.
And later, during a question-and-answer session, Rubio declined to say if he had ever smoked marijuana.
“If I tell you I haven’t you won’t believe me,” said Rubio. “If I tell you that I did then kids will look up to me and say, ‘well I can smoke marijuana ‘cause look how he made it.’”
During that same session, Rubio also revealed how he got out of his own student debt.
“Fortunately, I paid that off with a book I wrote, An American Son, now available in paperback,” he said.
The political memoir was a New York Times bestseller.
You can watch the speech here: