Marco Rubio Calls for Breaking Up U.S. Higher Education 'Cartel'

In what was billed as his first major domestic policy speech, he mentions Hillary Clinton but not his Republican rivals.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) speaks during the NRA-ILA Leadership Forum at the 2015 NRA Annual Meeting & Exhibits on April 10, 2015 in Nashville, Tennessee.

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The U.S. risks missing innovation opportunities if it doesn't lower corporate taxes and move to a reinvent higher education, including creating a new university accreditation process, Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio said Tuesday.

"The problems with higher education are many, but the ideas from Hillary Clinton and other outdated leaders are narrow and shortsighted," he said in Chicago. "We need a holistic overhaul—we need to change how we provide degrees, how those degrees are accessed, how much the access costs, how those costs are paid, and even how those payments are determined."

In what was billed as his first major domestic policy speech as a presidential candidate, Rubio only mentioned the Democratic presidential nomination front-runner, not any of the 15 other Republicans now in the race or expected to join this month.

The first-term senator, one of the youngest candidates in the field, is trying to push forward-looking themes, as he seeks to differentiate himself from top competitors in both parties, including Clinton and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush.

"For the first 15 and a half years of this century, Washington has looked to the past," Rubio said. "Our economy has changed, but our economic policies have not. And we have learned, painfully, that the old ways no longer work—that Washington cannot pretend the world is the same as it was in the ‘80s, it cannot raise taxes like it did in the ‘90s, and it cannot grow government like it did in the 2000s."

The existing university system is controlled by what amounts to a "cartel of existing colleges and universities, which use their power over the accreditation process to block innovative, low-cost competitors from entering the market," Rubio said during his appearance at a technology incubator.

Rubio, 44, said he'd "bust this cartel" by establishing a new accreditation process more welcoming to low-cost, innovative providers.

"This would expose higher education to the market forces of choice and competition, which would prompt a revolution driven by the needs of students –- just as the needs of consumers drive the progress of every other industry in our economy," he said.

Rubio, who formally announced his presidential bid in April, pitched something called the “Student Right to Know Before You Go Act,” which would require institutions to tell students how much they can expect to earn with a given degree before they take out the loans to pay for it.

He also called for more flexibility in how student loans are repaid and for allowing students to partner with investors who would pay their tuition in return for a percentage of their earnings for a few years after graduation.

Besides better preparing workers for the modern economy, Rubio also called for lowered corporate taxes, something backed by most of the Republican candidates.

"I will empower innovators rather than punish them," he said. "I will cut our corporate tax rate to be competitive with the average of 25 percent for developed nations."

If America had taken this action 10 years ago, the nation would have acquired $590 billion worth of foreign firms, instead of losing $179 billion worth of U.S. businesses, Rubio said.

"To build the most innovation-friendly economy in the world, we must build the most business-friendly economy in the world," Rubio said. "Right now we have, quite nearly, the exact opposite."

Democrats responded to Rubio's remarks by saying there was nothing new.

"Rubio continues to peddle the same failed Republican policies that cripple the economy and squeeze the middle class," Holly Shulman, a Democratic National Committee spokeswoman, said in a statement. "He’s in favor of more tax cuts for the rich, deep cuts to public education and Pell Grants, and he continues to stand against net neutrality."

Rubio gave his speech at 1871, a technology incubation hub inside the Merchandise Mart in downtown Chicago. It was the same venue used by Senator Rand Paul's presidential campaign in May when he appeared in Chicago.

The Floridian was scheduled to arrive in Iowa later Tuesday for the start of a three-day swing in the state that will start the nomination voting in February.

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