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Indentured Regression: Marco Rubio Thinks College Students Should Be Sharecroppers

| August 29, 2015

marco rubio student loans

Indebted to Wall Street. (George Kelly)

If you listen closely not every part of the presidential election campaign has been hijacked by Donald Trump and his apprentice dunces. On the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders may not have a chance, but he’s the anti-Trump and anti-Hillary all in one: he is so serious that he can’t be bothered with the oily niceties of the campaign trail or the oilier slickness of PR flackers. He’s all plans: a higher minimum wage, a single-payer health care system, ending corporations’ free tax ride, and so on. In comparison Clinton is a muddle of dullness and predictability. It’s as if she fears original ideas, at least those she cares to share with us beyond her private servers.

pierre tristam column flaglerlive On the Republican side there’s so much noise and hilarious fury that it’s difficult to pick out any serious ideas. But they’re there, and from the most surprising candidate: Florida’s Marco Rubio. Look beneath the ideological surface, and what you see is a less rigid, more daring candidate than Jeb Bush, who more and more is beginning to remind me of Gerald Ford. He keeps tripping over his own words, especially when he tries to speak English.

One Rubio idea stands out for its apparent radicalism. It attempts to deal with a problem that’s pricing out millions of students from a proper education. That’s the rising cost of college and a crushing loan system that’s leaving graduates with an average of $35,000 to pay back. That’s more than triple the amount students carried into the work force in 1993. College tuition has also more than doubled–at private and public colleges.

Florida is not helping. Four years ago the Florida University Board of Governors allowed our universities to increase tuition by 15 percent every year. They’re doing so because the Legislature cut its funding, and, in a twisted bit of reasoning, to make Florida universities more competitive by attracting more reputable faculty. The message to Floridian students: we’re looking past you for deeper pockets. Once-exemplary state scholarship programs such as Bright Futures have lost half their value in a student’s aid package, with no interest from the Legislature to make up the difference. Students make up differences in loans. Or by foregoing college.

Rubio’s idea is provocative. But it’s also slightly dehumanizing. It turns students into something like equity shares. We live in a strange age when the supreme court thinks nothing of equating corporations with persons. So it may seem natural to equate persons with corporations.

In Rubio’s financial scheme, a student needing $10,000 to afford tuition would sell herself to investors. They would look at her major, decide whether to give her the money, and set the terms of paying it back. She’d have to pay a percentage of her salary for five, 10 or more years, whatever salary she’s making to the investors. Rubio says she’d be under no obligation to pay back the loan over the life of the contract. But since the investors set the terms, it’s difficult to imagine that the result won’t be like a casino where the house always wins.

High-demand majors might get more generous terms, because the income they’re expected to generate is higher. Low demand majors would either get no investors or harsher terms, like 10 percent of one’s salary over a longer period of time. Universities would then be less inclined to offer majors that don’t attract students. And people like Rubio and Rick Scott, who think anthropology majors are from the Jurassic era, would celebrate.

The scheme is called human capital contracts. It sounds like free enterprise with all the fixings. It sounds, as Rubio describes it, “revolutionary.”

But it’s nothing of the sort. It’s as old as share-cropping, except with brains. It turns students into indentured servants for a chunk of their career. It lets investors dictate what majors matter and majors don’t, flouting the whole purpose behind a college education that makes academic freedom, and the student’s freedom to choose, the first principle of that education. And it does nothing to address the root of the problem: that’s rising tuition. Loans are a crutch, too. But no student loan is ever conditional on a student’s chosen major or choice of career. It’s a neutral contract.

And it’s not variable. A $150-a-month payment at graduation will still be a $150 payment 10 years hence. A tithe on a graduate’s paycheck will take an ever-increasing amount of money out of that graduate’s paycheck as his or her income rises. And if that graduate turns into a Jeff Bezos-type entrepreneur, it’s jackpot for the investors, but not necessarily an incentive to the graduate for enrichment. The pay-back scheme is no different than a tax.

Rubio is right to focus on college costs. American universities are the envy of the world. But they became so because they have been shielded from the corruptive influence of the market, not because the market had an open door to the university. Rubio’s scheme turns that principle on its head while doing nothing to cut costs. In other words, it’s just a new way to shove dollars to investors at the expense of the university.

There are better ideas out there, among them the proposal, favored by Hillary Clinton, to cap loan repayments at 10 percent of income over 20 years, and forgive whatever remains of that debt at 20 years, with the government making up the cost at that point.

The best thing about Rubio’s idea is that he’s made college costs a topic of debate. Beyond that, he should brush up on the bleak history of servitude in this country before proposing a variant where it does not belong.

Pierre Tristam is FlaglerLive’s editor. Reach him by email here or follow him on Twitter @PierreTristam.A version of this piece aired on WNZF.

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16 Responses for “Indentured Regression: Marco Rubio Thinks College Students Should Be Sharecroppers”

  1. karma says:

    What big surprise by the democrat party . Let someone else pay your student loan. Let someone else pay for your healthcare, childcare, food,home,phone,entertainment and other things. At some point, they will run out of other peoples money. What will their platform be then?

  2. Footballen says:

    Really do like Rubio, and I actually agree with Pierre on Bernie. He seems different than the same old regurgitated crud from the rest of that camp. Don’t get me started on Trump either. How do we so many but truly so little to choose from at every level?

  3. Anonymous says:

    Government should not be in the business of making loans. How about having collages make the loans?

  4. Gkimp says:

    They could drastically reduce the cost of a college education by reducing the huge salaries of administrators and professors. Talk about corporate welfare? These employees, often State Government employees continue to make 6 or 7 figures without ever having worked in the “real world”. In the mean time they get more federal government money AND raise tuition, leaving the little guy with years of debt. These are the same people who preach against capitalizm.

    • Samuel L. Bronkowitz says:

      The salaries that professors make are a fraction of what they’d make in the private sector. A 6 or 7 figure salary applies to upper echelon administrators and maybe a tiny handful of professors that also have some sort of administrative function.

      Personally, I think we should flush the entirety of the educational loan system down the toilet and just provide schools with realistic funds from the state to operate and let the students attend for free, presuming they pass a reasonably difficult entrance exam to college. That way you don’t burden the students with massive debt for attending college, thereby enabling them to contribute to the good ole US of A without spending more per month paying back their loans than they do for rent and food combined. Until that happens, I’ll continue encouraging every student I know that has crippling debt to emigrate, get a job, and then give the US the finger.

  5. Coyote says:

    Wasn’t this the initial premise of the 90’s TV show ‘Northern Exposure’? The main character (Dr. Joel) had his medical degree paid for by the state of Alaska – the repayment of which involved him running a medical office in some remote town/area of Alaska for four years.

  6. Sandra Reynolds says:

    I took advantage of the indentured servant program, but mine was with the govt not industry. The commonwealth of Pennsylvania paid my senior year tuition if I promised to work for the county for one full year on salary. I couldn’t resist it.

  7. groot says:

    They got me in the early ’80s for my student loans. Suddenly, I received notices about taking my bank account and my paychecks. I paid it back. A loan, is a loan, is a loan, is a loan and it has to be paid back. Looking at the foreclosure rate around here, some people still don’t get it.

  8. Dave says:

    All of this is fine and dandy in a perfect world where everyone is rich. But who is going to pay off the raising student loan debt. which is at and raising $1.3 trillion dollars. Most of these student that go to college, the high percentage of them are working in jobs where they can’t afford to live and work and payoff any debt.

    Education does not have to be outrageously expensive but we the people let it get that way. We keep on letting colleges raise the rates and we keep on paying them while sending our children to college.

    Like groot noted, a loan is a loan.

  9. Footballen says:

    I don’t find it that difficult to resolve. I need a car because it is essential to my life style. When I went to replace my old car I thought, “I have read that the new Shelby Mustang is amazing”. You see it was right about then that sensibility, reasoning and logic began to come into play.Needless to say I did not buy an 80 thousand dollar sports car that gets 8 miles to the high test gallon. Another case in point. I didn’t pay for any of my children to go to college and I didn’t buy any of them a car. All their lives I have taught them each that if they truly want something be willing to work hard and obtain it. Be smart with your money and do not fall for quick money high interest loans. The youngest is currently in the military where he just completed training that will allow him to come right out and start working in the 90-150k a year range. He will be able to afford his own college with little difficulty then. The others followed similar paths obtaining a highly valued skill first then using that to fund their desires but neither used the military for that.

  10. Sherry E says:

    What ever happened to “state universities” who at least attempted to keep a collage education affordable for the majority of the working class citizens of the USA? With so many of our halls of higher education now focused only on maximizing profits, we will just continue to move further and further down the list when it comes to the quality of education our student receive.

    Here’s just 1 example. . . this from The Guardian. . . the entire article is worth a read:

    There is a for-profit wolf lurking in public higher education. That wolf is University of Maryland University College, where I have taught for nearly a decade. With an annual enrollment of 90,000 students, UMUC has a 60-year-long reputation of serving nontraditional students – those who are over 25, first-generation American, of color, low-income, and in the military – in in the US and overseas. The university says its mission is to “offer top-quality educational opportunities to adult students in Maryland, the nation, and the world.” This is hardly the case anymore.

    Over the past decade, UMUC has slowly turned into a money-making venture in all but name. It is giving students with few higher education options a low-level college education, all for the sake of maximizing profit. By doing so, it is joining the likes of University of Phoenix and Kaplan University, who are also chasing the bottom-line over student satisfaction.

    There are other issues of profitability trumping quality education in higher education, including the intense focus on fundraising at institutions as varied as Stanford University and University of Texas-Austin. But with UMUC and perhaps other public institutions, though, this profitability focus has had an impact on the quality of teaching and learning available to students.

    Last month, UMUC took its latest step towards redoing its public institution status. On 30 January, the University System of Maryland’s Board of Regents approved their request for semi-autonomy within the university system. This will allow UMUC to benefit from being part of a fully accredited state university system. Those benefits include continued access to federal higher education funds, less scrutiny from college accrediting organizations and remaining a school with a good reputation (as the public often mixes up UMUC with the University of Maryland at College Park, the state flagship campus).

    At the same time, this semi-autonomic status will allow UMUC administration to hire, fire and address faculty and staff grievances as they please, increase tuition without the need for state approval and exempt important records like retention and graduation rates from public disclosure.

    But the reasons for this move, they say, is to help UMUC “compete in a market dominated by for-profit corporations that move fast, are highly flexible, are able to employ cutting-edge business practices in real time.”

    This corporate culture is enabling the university to move fast indeed – toward a place that is highly damaging to students. For one, personal intellectual development is being thrown out of the window – UMUC is becoming all about career advancement. Thanks to this new agreement, UMUC could choose no longer offer liberal arts and other kinds of courses that its partners – especially the military – might deem unimportant to a college education.

    Program staff and full-time faculty (who make up only 10% of all faculty at UMUC) are increasingly under pressure to devise courses that are directly relevant to jobs in fields such as cybersecurity or homeland security, two of UMUC’s relatively new and military-friendly degree programs. Without courses that encourage intellectual development, UMUC is merely training students for a single job or one career path, rather than providing skills that students can transfer to multiple jobs and careers. . . . . .

  11. RickG says:

    I’m all about @coyote.. Each and every able bodied persons between the ages of 18 and 26 should be required to perform some form of payback to the country, area in which they live or some other social benefit and they be allowed to attend any state university at no cost. Perhaps this may be a way to alter the economical landscape that is so tilted towards the rich.

    • Samuel L. Bronkowitz says:

      One of the reasons that education is so expensive is the feedback loop between colleges and lenders. The feedback loop is there because lenders lobbied congress to insure that student loan debt is impossible to get away from. So regardless of your economic status, once you lose the ability to defer your loans the lenders WILL get their money, either by garnishing your wages or garnishing your tax return. You could be homeless and any legitimate money you have will be taken to pay for that loan no matter how hungry you are. So schools are free to operate with high tuition knowing that lenders will give students the money required to attend, who in turn have the protection of the federal government when it comes to getting their money back. Change the system and your idea is a really good one.

  12. Lancer says:

    So…it’s okay for the government to sale the dream of college to kids who: 1. aren’t ready, 2. have no idea what the should study or 3. should not be in college but, trade school?

    Then, after these kids don’t make it after a semester or two are overburdened with debt…which the government demands be paid. Most kids I’ve seen don’t even understand fundamental ROI and factor it into what they plan to study. A college major should pay for itself in, no less than, 5 years.

    Also, since government has been involved in the financing college education business…tuition rates have INCREASED for everyone.

    It’s time to get the government out of such things as this. If we, the taxPAYERs, are going to finance education…it should be in fields of need. We shouldn’t be financing art history majors, for example.

    But, the new plan by democrats to encourage millennial voters? The government will pay for your college debt! yep…put more of a burden on the taxpayer. We don’t have enough responsibility supporting everyone, paying down the federal debt, creating businesses, creating jobs, moving the economy, etc.

    Government has become a complete joke. We have a bunch of lawyers with no experience doing, practically anything, attempting to cure societies problems. Government has never been effective doing any of this because it is not its role. It only wastes resources.

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