Sen. Marco Rubio spoke out again this week on the importance of higher education as a support for the middle class. Unlike many other high-profile proponents of higher ed reform, he believes Washington lacks an appreciation for technical education. So he proposed making federally-backed student loans available to those seeking technical degrees online as well as at brick-and-mortar institutions.
But his proposal is problematic. It is certainly true that many students attending traditional colleges would reap greater rewards from technical schools and that federal policy is biased towards traditional institutions. As a fiscal conservative, however, Rubio should be especially sensitive to the distortionary effects federally-backed loans have had on American higher education. Subsidizing technical programs would undoubtedly insulate them from competitive pressure, allowing them to raise tuition and expand their bureaucracies with abandon. Indeed, if he were truly interested in creating a market in higher education, he would think creatively about reducing federal loans across the board.
It is disappointing that Rubio’s first inclination for reform involves showering more money on higher education. Advocates for higher ed reform still have no champion in Congress.