In his response to the President's State of the Union address, Marco Rubio once again displayed his worrisome approach to higher ed policy. Though he rightfully lamented both tuition cost growth and the government's bias against non-traditional institutions, his proposals did not address the heart of the matter. He suggested expanding federal student aid for students enrolled in "online courses, or degree programs that give you credit for work experience." However, doing so would not have any effect on lowering tuition costs--quite the opposite. His second suggestion, to give students more information about the costs of loans, will likewise have little effect on tuition. Students will continue to shoulder massive amounts of debt so long as the federal government offers it cheaply. Rubio has yet to acknowledge this point; his approach to higher-ed reform will be lacking until he does.
Curiously, President Obama showed a greater awareness of the federal government's role in creating bad incentives for students and colleges. He urged Congress to revise the Higher Education Act -- the program that authorizes federal college loans -- so that Washington considers "affordability and value" when deciding to which colleges it should dispense aid. Though he suggested that only "certain types" of federal aid programs would incorporate a cost-value assessment, he correctly framed the problem of increasing college tuition as one of "taxpayers...subsidizing higher and higher costs for higher education." Why can't Rubio?