Senator Marco Rubio (R-Florida) said Monday that he would like to make it easier for non-traditional students to pursue higher education.
Speaking at a National Journal event in Miami that was co-moderated by Fusion's Mariana Atencio, the potential 2016 presidential candidate laid out a plan to make college more accessible that in many respects mirrors President Obama's proposals.
Rubio said he'd like to offer college credit to students who acquire skills outside of the classroom. It's an idea the Obama administration supports and one that could benefit older students with work experience and veterans who have acquired skills during their service. Both men have also voiced support for expanding access to vocational and technical training programs.
Rubio would also like to see an income-based loan-repayment plan based on how much graduates earn after they graduate. In a related proposal, Rubio also said he wants to require schools to publish how much graduates earn to increase transparency and encourage students to attend schools and pursue degrees that lead to a living wage. Obama has touted a similar idea and called for the creation of a ratings system that allows students to compare things like graduation rates and job placement rates of different colleges.
Obama has said he'd like to tie funding to the ratings system, but that will require action from Congress. While it's unclear the House and the Senate will come together to pass such measures, the overlap in higher education proposals is encouraging.
Both Rubio and Obama have also called for expanded online courses, although community college leaders at Monday's event cautioned that many students perform best in a more structured face-to-face environment.
The president's plan and Rubio's proposal are by no means identical though. Rubio proposed allowing private investment groups to pay tuition in exchange for a percentage of a graduate's future earnings. It's an idea that isn't necessarily right for people who expect to be high earners right out of college, but it could be worthwhile for those with lower incomes. Some microlenders are already banking on the idea.
And Rubio, who has freqently sparred with the White House on issues from immigration to healthcare, wrote in an op-ed for the National Journal that "The federal government also uses a tangled and bureaucratic system of tax policies. What students and parents need from our tax code is simple, so let's stop pretending it's so complicated. They need their educational expenses to be tax deductible. That's why Representative Schock and I have proposed a bill to update and consolidate higher education tax incentives into one simple, easy-to-understand tax credit."
Despite the partisan jabs and variation in plans, Obama and Rubio are both focused on a core idea: the nation needs to do a better job of making college more accessible to an increasingly diverse body. It's the only way to begin to end the income gap.
"This is the opportunity of our time, and no people on earth are better positioned to seize it," Rubio wrote. "If we can just bring higher education within reach of more of our people, the 21st century—like the one before it—will be an American century."
Emily DeRuy is a Washington, D.C.-based associate editor, covering education, reproductive rights, and inequality. A San Francisco native, she enjoys Giants baseball and misses Philz terribly.