As Hillary Clinton unveiled her plan to overhaul college funding, two Republicans seeking to compete with her in the general election criticized it as a massive tax increase.
Both former Gov. Jeb Bush (R-FL) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) slammed Clinton’s plan as being a poor fit for the modern economic and educational needs of today’s students and for its negative impact on taxpayers.
Clinton’s proposal, according to an AP report, would create a $200 billion federal incentive system, wherein states that provided free community college tuition and “no loan” tuition at state universities would be eligible to receive the federal funding.
The program would be funded in part by slashing income tax deductions for charitable contributions and home mortgage interest, capping the amount that “wealthy families” could claim.
In an appearance on Fox & Friends Monday morning, Rubio criticized Clinton’s plan as pouring money into a higher education system that was not just expensive, but also “outdated,” and that failed to solve any of the structural problems inherent in the system.
Instead, said Rubio, there needed to be more emphasis on nontraditional schooling, like online education and vocational training. More flexibility would be especially helpful, said Rubio, for working Americans so they could advance their educations while keeping their jobs and supporting their families.
Rubio also advocated for more transparency in the student loan process, saying that colleges should inform students about what they can expect to earn with a degree from that college in the major they are considering, before they end up tens of thousands — or even hundreds of thousands — of dollars in debt and in a field with poor employment prospects.
Rubio has frequently spoken of his struggles paying off his own six-figure student loan debt, including at last week’s GOP debate.
Bush agreed with his fellow Floridian in harshly condemning Clinton’s proposal, posting a statement on his website that slammed it as a “top-down Washington solution” that would “raise the cost of college even further and shift the burden to hardworking taxpayers.”
This irresponsible proposal would raise taxes, increase government debt, and double-down on the failed Obama economic policies that have led to a “new normal” of sluggish economic growth, rising college costs spurred by Washington, and limited opportunities for all Americans – including recent college graduates.
We don’t need more top-down Washington solutions that will raise the cost of college even further and shift the burden to hardworking taxpayers. We need to change the incentives for colleges with fresh policies that result in more individualization and choices, drive down overall costs, and improve the value of a college degree, which will help lead to real, sustained four-percent economic growth.
We also need additional pro-growth economic policies that will give more college graduates the opportunity to achieve earned success rather than continuing down the path of declining workforce participation and access to jobs.
When Bush was Governor of Florida, higher education reform was one of his top priorities. Bush’s policies met with vocal opposition when first proposed — especially the elimination of affirmative action in admissions — but the end results included some impressive numbers, including for minority students.
According to research conducted by the Board of Governors of the State University System of Florida, overall enrollment in Florida’s colleges rose 29 percent across the board. Minority enrollment saw significant increases: 8,000 more black students, an increase of 24 percent, and nearly 20,000 more Hispanic students, an increase of 59 percent.
The number of graduates also was improved: 39 percent more degrees overall, 54 percent more black graduates, and 70 percent more Hispanic graduates. Florida’s tuition rates also remained the lowest in the country, after Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico.
Besides the objections raised by Bush, Rubio, and other conservative commentators, Clinton faces major hurdles in making her plan a reality, beyond just convincing enough people to pick her at the ballot box next year. As the AP notes, a more modest $60 billion proposal from President Barack Obama for free community college tuition has found little support or even interest in Congress.
Fiscal conservative watchdog groups are always skeptical of plans like Clinton’s, where states are encouraged to add some new line item on their budgets with the incentive of federal funding to cover the costs. Unfortunately for state legislators who have to manage their budgets, these federal incentive payments often end up being broken promises. In some cases, like for the states who expanded Medicaid under Obamacare, the plan is to phase down the federal incentives from the beginning.
According to the Foundation for Government Accountability, at least seventeen states have had Medicaid enrollments that exceeded their projected 2014 enrollment, with some facing costs that are more than double the original estimates. The federal funding for the Medicaid expansion is set to start decreasing in 2017, and the states have always been on the hook for the additional administrative costs of the extra enrollees.
Clinton’s desire to fund the plan by capping tax deductions for charitable donations and mortgage interest is likely to be unpopular as well. Both deductions have strong support on both sides of the partisan aisle, and past efforts to eliminate or limit them have never gained traction.
Additionally, for an American public weary after two terms of Obama and remembering the broken promises of Obamacare’s costs, few will be willing to trust Clinton that the tax increase on “wealthy families” won’t include them too.
Follow Sarah Rumpf on Twitter @rumpfshaker.