In case we had forgotten that Mitt Romney is a businessman, his callous solution to rapidly mounting tuition costs and student debt serves as a salient reminder that he prefers free market principles to reality – and that knowing how to run a business doesn't mean you know how to run a country.
Romney understands that tuition and student debt are out of control. But he thinks it's the government's fault for stepping in to help people go to college if they can't afford it on their own. In a recent interview, Romney said:
“If the government starts writing checks for people to go to a university, they will just keep raising their rates because there will be no incentive to say we'll have to hold our rates down in order to attract the best students. Now, of course some of the big institutions have great scholarship programs that keep the costs down through those charitable contributions. But, I'm not in favor of having the federal government start spending money which would only in my view raise the cost of tuition.”
That's because Romney thinks hope is on the way – the free market is going to bring down costs until college is affordable for all. At the Youngstown Town Hall in March, he said, “I know that it would be popular for me to just stand up and say I'm going to give you government money to make sure to pay for your college. But I'm not going to promise that. What I'm going to tell you is: Shop around, get a good price.” According to Romney, if students just start attending the top-tier universities that somehow don't require them to take on any debt (even without student aid), other schools will have to lower costs to compete.
But in just the past year, the average in-state tuition and fees at a four-year public college increased by 8 percent, so that it's now at an all-time high of over $8,000. Romney would be hard pressed to blame federal investment in student aid for this drastic jump in the course of just one year. It also shows that even with “shopping around,” a responsible student whose parents aren't able to pitch in would still take out easily over $30,000 in debt just for tuition, not to mention cost of living.
The prospect of a president who doesn't support the interests of students who can't fork out tens of thousands of dollars for college comes at a particularly troubling time. The rates on Stafford loans are set to double in July unless Congress acts soon. Just yesterday, Senate Republicans actually filibustered the Democratic bill to prevent the increase in rates. The reason? The Democrats wanted to help offset the cost of the one -year extension by fixing a loophole in the tax system that allows very wealthy people to classify their income as dividends to avoid paying taxes. According to Rep. Lamar Alexander, “They want to raise taxes on people who are creating jobs when we are still recovering from the greatest recession since the Great Depression.” His even more disturbing solution: pay for the extension by eliminating a fund for preventive health care that was established as part of the Affordable Care Act.
As Republicans hold student loan rates hostage as a weapon against health care reform, Romney has remained silent. But he has found other ways to show contempt for student aid by calling Paul Ryan's budget plan, which targets Pell grants for funding cuts and would allow student loans to double, “bold,” “exciting” and “excellent.” And as governor of Massachusetts, he presided over a state that was 47th in terms of spending on higher education.
The most troubling aspect of Romney's rhetoric may be the fact that he talks about taking on student debt as if it's an irresponsible choice made by people living outside their means. Except he's not talking about taking out an adjustable rate mortgage or buying a yacht with a payday loan – he's talking about education.