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ICYMI: Senator Rubio Discusses Middle Class Opportunity At Politico’s Playbook Breakfast

Dec 5, 2012 | Press Releases

Rubio: “If I worry about anything, it’s that too many young Americans either aren’t dreaming, or believe those dreams aren’t accessible to them because of the circumstances that they’re growing up in. We’ve got to deal with that somehow, and government has a role to play in that.”

Interview w/ Politico’s Mike Allen
Senator Marco Rubio
December 5, 2012

Politico’s Mike Allen: “Senator, last night, you talked about a new direction for the Republican Party and one of the things that you talked about was education, and how to make higher education cheaper, how to reform Pell Grants. What would be the number one thing that you would do, that you can do, as a freshman minority senator?” 

Senator Marco Rubio: “Well, I don’t think there is a number one thing. I think there are a number of number one things, and you’ve got to do them all. Look, the biggest obstacle we face is that the 21st century student doesn’t look like the 20th century student. It’s not just an 18-year-old that graduated high school. Obviously, that still continues to be a significant part of the folks that are going into college. But it’s also the 38-year-old who has decided to go back to school and get a degree. That was my sister’s experience. It’s also the 25-year-old that, after ten years of being out of high school, has been kind of stuck in these service area jobs and is deciding they want to empower themselves with new skills. And the great news is that technological advances are going to not only lower the time and cost of getting that kind of skill acquisition, but are going to make it, you know, much more accessible. And what we have to make sure is that our student aid programs don’t stand in the way of it. 

“So let me just give you an example. Right now, what we have is student aid programs, like the Pell Grants or the loan programs.  They accredit institutions. They don’t accredit courses. And so that obviously is weighed towards your traditional four-year, land grant university. There’s nothing wrong with that. I went to the University of Florida, a school that is about to crush Louisville in the Sugar Bowl. But anyway, you know, that’s not getting me many points with Mitch McConnell. 

“But what about the folks that don’t want to do that, that can’t do that? They want to take a course, an online course from this school here, and an online credit from this school over here. We should accredit courses so that we’re not discriminating against allowing people to acquire skills in that setting. I think we have to reform our Pell Grant and loan programs so that they reflect the 21st century student. I think that’s a bipartisan thing. 

“The second thing I would do is make sure the students have more information. That’s why I sponsored the Right to Know Before You Go Act, which means that before you take out this loan, students are going to be given information about how long it’s going to take to graduate, how much you can expect to make if you graduate with this degree, and how much you’re going to have to owe on student loans. Now if you still want to get that philosophy major, that’s fine. But it doesn’t pay a lot of money, and you’re going to owe one hundred and fifty grand.”

Allen: “Now we have not heard Republicans talking a lot about these topics, and the Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal said Republicans need to stop being the stupid party. In what sense have Republicans been the stupid party?” 

Rubio: “Well, I don’t know about that. Look, I think the challenge for the conservative movement, the challenge for every movement in American politics, is to apply your principles that, as a conservative, I believe are tested and proven by time and history. And applying those principles to the 21st century. We applied them to the 20th century, but now we have to apply them to the 21st century. And so for me, I mean like everybody, we came from somewhere. We bring with us that experience, as I said last night. I graduated college with about $150,000 in student loans between law school and undergrad. There was no other way for me to pay for it. It was a combination of Pell Grants and Stafford loans and then student loans which, as I said last night, I paid off with the proceeds of my book which is a perfect holiday gift available on Amazon now.” 

Allen: “‘An American Son’.” 

Rubio: “‘An American Son’, that’s right. But anyway, I never would’ve been able to go to school without that. It’s just that simple. If there weren’t Pell Grants and there weren’t student loan programs, I would not be a college graduate.” 

Allen: “Now Senator, in your speech last night, you talked a little bit about how fortunate we are to be where we are, who we are. You talked about how, but for an accident, you were in your dad’s shoes. You pointed out that you would probably be a very opinionated bartender.” 

Rubio: “Right. Because my parents came to this country, they were relatively unskilled and uneducated. I think my dad went to the fourth grade or something like that. My mom, not much more. They grew up in very underprivileged circumstances. They moved to the United States, and in the 20th century, they were able to find jobs where they could own a house, buy a car, take vacations. You know, we never had everything we wanted, but we always had more than we needed. And that’s a tribute to the miracle of the American middle class. And I understand that being raised by parents like that somewhere else would not have meant what it meant here. I would have not gone as far, I would be stuck somewhere else.” 

Allen: “You had more than you needed, but you were a kid. Did you realize it at the time?” 

Rubio: “Well, I’m a kid. You know, you don’t realize these things. The thing I always realized, I think I give my parents great credit for this, is they from the very beginning just really drilled deep to us that there was nothing we couldn’t do. That, in essence, there are no limits to how far you can go. ‘We have some limits because we got here kind of late.  We don’t know the language as well as we need to.  We don’t have the skills. But you guys can be anything you want. Really there’s no reason why you can’t.’ And I just can’t tell you how important that is for a young person, to not only have dreams, but to believe those dreams are possible. And if I worry about anything, it’s that too many young Americans – and I spoke about this last night – either aren’t dreaming, or believe those dreams aren’t accessible to them because of the circumstances that they’re growing up in. We’ve got to deal with that somehow, and government has a role to play in that.”