America’s Mis-Structured Education

obama-education

Yesterday, Marco Rubio posted a video for his presidential campaign titled America’s Education System Needs A Disruption. In it, the Republican candidate cites key criticisms of America’s current educational system – the rising costs of tuition that lack successful conversion into actual jobs being one of them – while also laying out some of the core motivations behind his proposed education plan. The video is concise and informative, and as Rubio mentions, his perspective is of a former student who only recently finished paying off more than a hundred thousand dollars of student loan debt. The key points are below.

Issues:

  • Higher education costs are rising without an equal amount of employment
  • America is falling beyond in math and literacy scores against competing countries

Solutions:

  • More choice for parents in school and curriculum
  • More support of vocational programs
  • Better information for students about the income potential of a chosen degree at their school
  • Repayment of loans based on actual income

Like many of his fellow Republican candidates, Rubio supports local control of education and more freedom for parents in choosing where to send their children for schooling. However, his plan does not address the federal government (as well as other lending institutions) profiting off of college students’ loans, nor the problem faced by many middle class families who cannot afford exorbitant tuition costs but who make too much to quality for sufficient financial aid. While Rubio does touch on issues at all levels of education, his solutions are not as transformative of a reform as he claims, and the rest of the Republican candidates lack a plan as well crafted as his.

This may give all of the Republican candidates a tough time against their Democrat counterparts, who are mostly against for-profit colleges and, in some cases, proponents of free education at public colleges. Both Hilary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have outlined plans for educational reform which focus on the cost of public colleges and repayment of student loans, offering some relief to current holders of debt and to future college students. But they seem to ignore the growing problems with the pre-college education system, and in Clinton’s case, the proposed funding for her plan- “fully paid for by limiting certain tax expenditures for high-income taxpayers” – is questionable from someone who is so heavily backed by high-income taxpayers.

rubio-sanders-clinton
Hilary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Marco Rubio, each of whom are presidential candidates.

Education has been an important topic in many of the current campaigns for the White House, and discussion may increase after President Obama’s criticisms of the GOP’s stance on education yesterday in Iowa. His attempt to offer two years of free community college to students has been largely unsupported by Congress, leaving the President to rally for support of his proposal from the general public, who could put pressure on their elected officials. But his plan, which is estimated to cost sixty billion dollars, does not seem to be gaining traction, especially with so many Republican presidential candidates openly critical of the prospective spending.

Rubio states that “while President Obama’s plan would double down on outdated methods of earning degrees, my plan would allow students to combine what they already know with faster and more affordable pathways to a degree.” The numbers may help support Rubio, as community colleges already offer federal grants in aid, and despite costing less, suffer from lower graduation rates than other public and private colleges.

As indicated by his visit to Iowa, President Obama hopes the lively political landscape will stimulate discussion on education, which remains poised to be one of the most relevant topics in the upcoming 2016 election, especially for younger voters. Unfortunately, no candidate currently seems to grasp America’s need for complete education reform, as the problem is not only one of rising college costs or federal regulation of standards, but also an issue with the core of our educational philosophy.

One of the biggest issues related to education, touched upon by Rubio, is the lack of support for technical, vocational and trade schools, which have lost enrollment due to the perceived necessity of a college education in order to be successful; this misattribution of success to possessing a college degree has stifled America’s education, as more and more students attend colleges for degrees they should not need in order to be a part of the work force. Students are now made to believe that a college education is almost required to be successful, and that they may not be fully prepared to work straight out of high school. This is partially due to a general unpreparedness of some students out of public schools, as too few schools offer students practical skills and experience that directly relate to applicable jobs. Lack of experience is a concern prevalent in colleges as well; while some schools build in internships or real-world experience into their curriculum, others simply serve as glorified extra schooling, without truly contributing anything substantial in value to match the degree students receive.

The idealization of college degrees, along with the increase in the debt of the average graduate, has led to a sharp decline in a number of economic categories – including the number of young entrepreneurs (leading to fewer overall startups) and the number of homeowners (especially among millennials, who cannot afford homes as early as their parents generation). The proposed plans of Rubio, Clinton and Sanders all attempt to mitigate the effect of debt on graduates, but Rubio and Clinton’s plans both fail to recognize the economic misfortune of a generation of twenty-somethings full of college graduates who each average over thirty-thousand dollars in student debt, leaving only Sanders with a plan that would alleviate most college student debt and arguably encourage economic growth.

Unbridled increase in the cost of college education is not a sudden revelation to the American public, but it finally sits at the forefront of presidential election campaign issues – and is right on the heels of action taken by President Obama to ease the burden on students. Hopefully, by the time of the general election, the Republican and Democratic nominees will each present fully-formed and openly discussed educational plans that address funding at the college level, as well as comprehensive reform for instruction at K -12 schools.

For related articles on the politics of education in America, refer to below. 

Kevin James’s Bernie’s Bad College Idea, a criticism of Bernie Sanders free-college plan from a fiscal standpoint. 

Julia Glum’s 2016 Candidates Linked to For-Profit Colleges Amid Calls for More Affordable Higher Education, a look at presidential candidates that may have profited from for-profit colleges, despite criticizing them. 

Keven Carey’s Gaps in Earnings Stand Out in Release of College Data, a discussion on the recently released data by the Department of Education showing a large wage gap between male and female graduates. 

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