Orlando Sentinel
Op-Ed: Sen. Rick Scott
September 16, 2019

Students across the country are heading back to school, so there is no better time to talk about our education system and how important it is to keep education affordable and attainable. Every American student — no matter how they grow up — should have a shot at their version of the American dream.

When I went to college in the 1970s, tuition was as low as $200 a semester, with no fees that I can remember. Today, the average cost of a private four-year college is more than $32,000 per year. The average cost of a public four-year college for out-of-state students is almost $24,000 per year. The average cost of a public four-year college for in-state students is almost $10,000 per year.

This is as shocking as it is unsustainable, and it means a college education is becoming out of reach for more and more students. It also means that students are becoming burdened with mountains of debt. Total student-loan debt in the United States now stands at more than $1.5 trillion. The delinquency or default rate is over 11%.

Now, the Democrats just want to cancel all student loan debt — like magic! Just make it disappear! It’s just another campaign talking point that would bankrupt our nation. But we live in reality, and we know that cancelling student debt doesn’t solve the problem.

Eliminating student-loan debt would actually create incentives for bad behavior, like raising tuition and fees on our students, to continue. It’s also a slap in the face to those who have worked hard and paid off their student loans or are in the process of doing so.

I’m spending my time focused on what we can do to make college affordable for students and incentivize the higher-education system to prepare students for a job upon graduation.

I know we can successfully do this because we did it in Florida.

Over the last six years of my term as governor, we held the line on tuition by not allowing our public universities to raise tuition or fees, implemented performance funding at our colleges and universities and invested significant resources in career and technical training. We created incentives to make sure all of our higher education institutions are doing their most important job: preparing students to enter the workforce, build a career and become self-sufficient.

Florida’s results speak for themselves. For three years in a row, U.S. News & World Report has rated Florida’s higher education system as the best in the nation. And we have the second lowest state-university tuition in the country.

I’m introducing legislation, using Florida as a model, on what can be done around the country.

First, if a student defaults on their federal loan, the institution where they took classes should be responsible for a portion of that default. If the schools aren’t preparing students to get a good-paying job after graduation, they need to share in that burden. By forcing universities to take more responsibility, they will have more of an incentive to prepare students for careers.

Second, we need to apply the same rules to not-for-profit institutions as we do to for-profit institutions so ALL universities are held to the same standards and accountable for what they are doing to prioritize student success.

Third, if a college or university raises tuition or fees, they would be cut off from all federal funding. Period. We did this in Florida. There’s no reason we can’t do it around the country.

Fourth, Pell Grants should be eligible for use at technical colleges. Current law arbitrarily limits Pell Grants. If a student has a Pell Grant, they should get to use it to get the job they want.

And finally, we must remove onerous Obama-era regulations that hinder private lenders from giving loans. U.S. taxpayers should not be on the hook for every student loan in our country.

These are simple concepts — but politicians in Washington and around the country too often fail to understand that. They just want to give out government money tied to no results. But, that’s not fair to taxpayers, who get no return on their investment for funding colleges and universities that can’t prepare students for jobs.

The Democrats are proposing policy plans that would bankrupt and destroy our country, just to win a presidential primary. But we deserve better. Hopeful parents and grandparents deserve better. Hard-working students deserve better. We all deserve better, and now is the time for serious discussion about a path forward.

The author, a Republican, is in his first term in the U.S. Senate. He was Florida’s governor from 2009 to 2017
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