The GOP College Affordability Rhetoric Just Doesn’t Add Up

The GOP presidential candidates profess their interest in making college affordable. They claim they want to increase access to the opportunities fostered by a college degree. But when it comes down to it, when there are clear policy solutions that would reduce the crippling strain of student debt and improve college affordability, Republican opposition to substantive reform speaks volumes.

The GOP presidential field opposes solutions such as student loan reform and forgiveness. They decry plans for debt-free college and free community college as “free stuff.” Some of them have even advocated slashing education funding. And some of them have succeeded: Scott Walker’s 2015 Wisconsin budget cut $250 million from Wisconsin’s public universities.

These Republicans oppose increased investment in higher education, and even call for divestment. They claim they want to improve access to quality, affordable education, but they don’t offer much in the way of substantive solutions.

It’s all empty rhetoric — and it doesn’t add up.

Background:

Jeb Bush

Opposed Free Community College As “Free Stuff”

Jeb Bush Opposed A Proposal To Make Community Colleges Tuition Free; Said “The Idea Of Giving Something Free – It’s Political. It’s Poll Driven. Someone Did A Focus Group. Free Stuff. Free Community Colleges, It’s A Great Sound Bite.” According to USA Today, “The former Florida governor stressed his record of cutting taxes, shrinking the state government, and maintaining the state’s bond rating — popular topics in fiscally conservative New Hampshire. Though he is known for his interest in improving public education — his support of Common Core educational standards is one reason why he gets labeled a moderate — Bush said he opposes President Obama’s proposal to make community college tuition free. ‘The idea of giving something free – it’s political. It’s poll driven. Someone did a focus group. Free stuff. Free community colleges, it’s a great sound bite,’ Bush said. He criticized Obama’s now-scrapped plan to end tax deductibility of contributions to 529 college savings programs. Obama’s approach says ‘you are bad because you’re saving your family, and I’m going to give free stuff for everybody else,’ Bush said. ‘This is the wrong approach.’” [USA Today, 4/17/15]

Criticized Debt-Free College Plan As “More Free Stuff”

When Asked About A Plan For Debt-Free College, Jeb Bush Summarized It As “Just Wipe The $1.2 Trillion Of Debt Without Reform Of Our Higher Education System, More Free Stuff.” According to IHE, “Jeb Bush was also in New Hampshire on Wednesday. NH1 News asked Bush what he thought of O’Malley’s debt-free ideas. He summarized it as ‘just wipe the $1.2 trillion of debt without reform of our higher education system, more free stuff,’ according to the news site. ‘I think the focus ought to be on how we reform higher education,’ Bush said, ‘so that full-time students can get a four-year degree in four years and they’ll be able to access a job because we’ll have a higher-growth economy than the one that he’s probably proposing.’ O’Malley fired back on Twitter, saying: ‘@JebBush no, debt-free college is not about ‘free stuff.’ It’s about providing opportunities for every American.’” [IHE, 7/10/15]

Student Loan Reform

2015: Jeb Bush Said That Federal Student Loan Programs Are Financing A “Dramatic Expansion” Of Buildings And “Prestigious Programs For Universities For Them To Feel Good About What They’re Doing.” According to Greenville Online, “Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, a potential Republican presidential candidate, said in Greenville Tuesday that federal student loan programs are financing a ‘dramatic expansion’ of buildings and ‘prestigious programs for universities for them to feel good about what they’re doing.’” [Greenville Online, 3/17/15]

2015: Jeb Bush Said Student Loan Programs Should Be Leveraged “For More Accountability So At Least Parents And Students Know Which Universities Are Really Fulfilling Their Mission Of Getting Students Out Of College With A Degree That Will Allow Them To Have A Job.” According to Greenville Online, “He said student loan programs should be leveraged ‘for more accountability so at least parents and students know which universities are really fulfilling their mission of getting students out of college with a degree that will allow them to have a job.’ ‘That I think is a better approach than just having no accountability at all,’ Bush said.” [Greenville Online, 3/17/15]

2015: Jeb Bush Called For Higher Education Reform; Said The Nation’s Universities Should Do More To Help Students Graduate On Time And Choose Degrees That Lead To Employment. According to Greenville Online, “Bush called for higher education reform during a talk to chamber of commerce members as the chairman of the Clemson University board, David Wilkins, sat in front of him at the Embassy Suites hotel. The nation’s universities, Bush said, ‘are great,’ but should do more to help students graduate on time and choose degrees that lead to employment.” [Greenville Online, 3/17/15]

Signed Budgets That Increased Tuition “Substantially”

PolitiFact: Jeb Bush Oversaw An Average In-State Tuition Increase Of 56.9 Percent During His Tenure. According to PolitiFact, “The Florida Democratic Party said Bush ‘oversaw average in-state tuition increase of 48.2 percent during his tenure.’ While not having the power to increase tuition himself, Bush did sign budgets in which the Legislature increased tuition substantially. We came up with 56.9 percent ourselves, counting the strict cost of tuition per hour over the eight years Bush was governor. That hike doesn’t beat estimates of the nationwide average at the time, however, and in-state, undergraduate tuition was still quite a deal compared to other states when Bush left office. The statement is accurate, but needs clarification or additional information. We rate it Mostly True.” [PolitiFact, 6/30/15]

Scott Walker

2011 Cuts To Higher Education

Walker Proposed A Cut Of $250 Million In May And $46.1 Million in December

May 2011: Walker Proposed $250 Million In Cuts To The State’s Universities. According to Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, “All UW campuses have argued that they need more flexibility in how they pay employees and how they spend state funds in the wake of $250 million in cuts Walker has proposed for the state’s universities.” [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 5/23/11]

December 2011: Walker Mandated That The University Of Wisconsin System Cut An Additional $46.1 Million Over Six Months. According to The Associated Press State & Local Wire, “The University of Wisconsin System will have to cut another $46.1 million over six months, on top of a previously approved $250 million two-year reduction, under a detailed budget-balancing plan Gov. Scott Walker’s administration released Friday.” [The Associated Press State & Local Wire, 12/23/11]

Walker’s Cuts Directly Harmed Financial Aid, Admissions, and Wisconsin Students Attending Minnesota Schools

2011-12: Walker Cut Overall Financial Aid By 3.4%. According to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau, “2011-12 […] Expenditure Chang -3.4%” [Legislative Fiscal Bureau, January 2013]

2013 Cuts To Higher Education

2013: Walker Proposed Additional $181 Million In Spending For   University Of Wisconsin System, But Cut $66 Million After UW System Surplus Came To Light

February: Walker Had Proposed $181 Million Spending Increase At UW System

February 20: Walker Budget Proposed Additional $181 Million In Funding For UW System.  According to The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, “The 26 universities and colleges in the UW System would receive an additional $181 million in state money over the two-year budget to focus on turning out graduates primed for high-demand professions . That would make up much but not all of the $315 million in cuts that universities took during the current budget.” [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 2/20/13]

April 22nd: University Of Wisconsin Officials Admit They Have A $650 Million Cash Reserve

University Of Wisconsin Officials Admitted Report Showing $648 Million Cash Reserve Fund Was Accurate.  According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, “Trying to balance damage control and candor, University of Wisconsin System officials acknowledged Monday they had been less than forthcoming about $648 million in cash spread over hundreds perhaps thousands of accounts at individual campuses. Outraged legislators, still reeling from a report that found the system had squirreled away more than a quarter of its unrestricted budget, clambered for a two year freeze on tax support and tuition a move that would reduce by $210 million what the system had hoped for in the next two years.” [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 4/22/13]

Walker Said He Would Not Be Giving UW System $181 Million Increase He Had Proposed

Walker Said He Would Divert Some Of The $181 Million He Earmarked For The University Of Wisconsin After A Report Was Released Showing The System Had $650 Million In Reserves. According to The Associated Press State & Local Wire, “Walker said he would divert some of the $181 million he originally earmarked for UW amid the release of a report two weeks ago showing that the system had about $650 million in reserves at the end of the last fiscal year. UW leaders have said that number is expected to grow by another $150 million by the end of June.” [The Associated Press State & Local Wire, 5/6/13]

Budget Effects Amounted to a $116 Million Cut 

2013-15 Budget Ended With $66 Million Budget Cut And A Tuition Freeze Costing $40 Million.  According to PolitiFact, “The report disclosing the size of the reserves was issued as Walker and lawmakers were fashioning the 2013-’15 state budget. They responded swiftly, instituting a $66 million budget cut to the UW System and a two-year tuition freeze. The freeze amounted to a $40 million hit, given that the schools had already planned tuition increases and incorporated that revenue into their own budgets.” [PolitiFact, 2/20/15] 

2015 Cuts To Education 

2015: Walker Proposed Cutting UW Funding While Giving University More Freedom

Walker Planned to Cut $300 Million From University Of Wisconsin System Budget

Walker Proposed 13 Percent Cut To UW Funding, But Gave System More Autonomy. According to the Associated Press, “The University of Wisconsin System will be given more autonomy, while having its state funding slashed by 13 percent over the next two years, under the budget Gov. Scott Walker will submit to the Legislature next week, the governor told The Associated Press in an exclusive interview on Monday. Walker released details of his budget plan as it affects the UW System to the AP ahead of a public announcement on Tuesday.” [Associated Press, 1/27/15] 

Walker Called His Proposed $300 Million Cut To The UW System “Manageable” And “Realistic.”  According to the Associated Press, “Gov. Scott Walker says his proposed $300 million cut to the University of Wisconsin System is ‘manageable’ and ‘realistic’ if UW is given some flexibilities to save money. Walker also told reportersThursday that he hopes the Legislature takes another look at his proposal to make UW independent from state oversight and laws. Republican leaders this week declared that dead, but said they are still looking at whether the cut can be reduced.” [Associated Press, 5/7/15] 

Legislature Reduced Size Of Cuts To $250 Million

Legislature Planned To Reduce Cuts To UW After Revenue Numbers Came In Week Of May Fifth. According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, “The co-chairs of the Legislature’s budget committee — Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette) and Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) — said they hoped to reduce Walker’s proposed $300 million in cuts, but they didn’t know by how much. They are awaiting estimates this week that will tell them whether revenue will be higher than earlier projections. [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 5/5/15]

Final Budget Cut UW Funding By $250 Million.  According to WKOW, “Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker signed a new, two-year state budget into law Sunday, approximately 24 hours before he’s expected to announce his candidacy for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. […]But Democrats blasted the $250-million cut to the UW System also contained in the budget.” [WKOW, 7/12/15]

John Kasich

2015: Kasich Announced Strategy Of “Just Start Cutting Funding And Tell Them To Deal With It” To Ensure College Affordability. According to the Columbus Dispatch, “Gov. John Kasich is threatening to ‘take an ax’ to state funding of Ohio’s public universities and colleges if they fail to cut costs and make tuition more affordable. ‘I reserve the right … to say that within the course of the next year, if they do not enact these changes … I think you just start cutting funding and tell them to deal with it,’ Kasich said after meeting privately for an hour with presidents of two- and four-year colleges and universities in his cabinet room. […] Kasich implored the higher-education leaders to make access and affordability central to their missions and reduce student costs to earn a degree. ‘Mom and dad and students need to know we’re very, very aware of these costs … we’re all worried about these costs,’ Kasich said of tuition rates that leave an average graduate with $29,000 in loans to pay.” [Columbus Dispatch, 2/11/15]

2014: Eight Of Ohio’s 14 Public Universities Imposed, Proposed Tuition Increases After Drop In State Aid, Enrollment. According to the Columbus Dispatch, “Eight of Ohio’s 14 public universities have imposed or proposed tuition increases for next school year, despite a push from students to keep costs down. University of Akron leaders agreed to raise tuition by 2 percent last week, following increases that have been approved at the University of Cincinnati, Youngstown State University and Shawnee State University. Four other schools have proposed increases: Ohio University, Miami University, Wright State University and the University of Toledo. […] The [Ohio Student Association] urges colleges to balance budgets without putting an extra burden on students. But officials at some schools said they feel pinned. With drops in enrollment and state aid, many must rely more on tuition.” [Columbus Dispatch, 4/28/15]

2014: Youngtown State Lost $9 Million In State Funding Over Three Years. According to the Columbus Dispatch, “Over the past three years, enrollment at Youngstown State has decreased by about 12 percent, leading to $12 million in lost revenue. In the same time period, state money allotted for the university has slipped by almost $9 million.” [Columbus Dispatch, 4/28/15]

Marco Rubio

Rubio Opposed Free Community College

2015: Rubio Voted Against Providing All Americans With Two Free Years Of Community College, Paid For By “Buffet Rule” Tax. In March 2015, Rubio voted against an amendment to the Senate’s FY 2016 budget resolution that, according to Congressional Quarterly, “would adjust the resolution to increase funding for social services’ education, training and employment by $60.3 billion and make related modifications to revenue, new budget authority, outlays, deficit and public debt amounts between fiscal years 2016 and 2025. The changes are intended to reflect future legislation that would require millionaires and billionaires to pay higher taxes in order to support two free years of community college for Americans.” The Senate rejected the proposed amendment by a vote of 45 to 55. [Senate Vote 100, 3/26/15; Congressional Quarterly, 3/26/15; Congressional Actions, S. Con. Res. 11]

2015: Rubio Criticized President Obama’s Plan To Subsidize Community College Tuition. According to CBS News, “Promoting his plan to subsidize community college tuition, Mr. Obama said, ‘in a 21st century economy that rewards knowledge like never before, we need to up our game.’ However, that proposal has also been criticized as ill-fitted for the new economy. ‘The problem is he just wants to pour that additional money into the broken, existing system — which a lot of people graduate with AA degrees that don’t lead to anything but another four-year degree that may not lead to a job,’ Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida — a prospective 2016 presidential candidate — suggested recently on CBS’ Face the Nation. ‘What we need to do is create competition with alternative methods where people can acquire certification programs that take less than two years, and get you to work right away as a welder, electrician, and airplane mechanic. I wish he would spend more time on that, and less time trying to raise taxes and pour money into an outdated model that no longer works in the 21st Century.” [CBS News, 1/21/15]

Rubio’s Education Plan Made Loans More Expensive, Would “Reward” Wealthier Fields

Rubio’s College Plan: “Students Who Finance Their Education Through Student-Investment Plans Might End Up Paying More Than The Initial Cost Of Their Education.” According to National Journal, “Many of Rubio’s suggested reforms, outlined in his remarks, rely on market forces to control costs and expand access… Both were part of the Rubio’s plan to provide options for students to pay for their education without incurring debt. Students who finance their education through student-investment plans might end up paying more than the initial cost of their education, Rubio said.” [National Journal, 2/10/14]

Rubio: Student Investment Plans “Will Likely Reward Those Who Are Going Into Fields That Are Highly Compensated.” According to CNBC, “Rubio acknowledged the bill might not help the majority of students, though. Investment will likely skew toward those pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering and math, he said. ‘I do think it will likely reward those who are going into fields that are highly compensated,’ he said. ‘It will in fact serve as an incentive for more students to graduate with degrees that are ultimately turned into employment as opposed to large number of students now that are graduating in fields that don’t lead to jobs.’” [CNBC, 4/9/14]