Paul Ryan on College

Now that Mitt Romney has chosen Paul Ryan as his running mate it’s time, perhaps, to take a look at how Ryan views federal policy for higher education. Romney, having only served as a governor of a state several years ago, hasn’t said much about college.

Back in October I pointed out that the Ryan plan for Pell grants, which specified reducing the benefits available because he believed the program was “unsustainable,” essentially amounted to just forcing students to take out more loans for college.

Michael Stratford over at the Chronicle of Higher Education takes a look at some more Ryan higher education plans. As he explains:

Among the largest higher-education items targeted for cuts in Mr. Ryan’s budget proposals are the federal student-aid programs. He has called for ending the in-school interest subsidy on undergraduate Stafford loans and tightening the eligibility requirements for the Pell Grant program. He would completely cut off Pell eligibility for students attending college less than half-time.

Of more concern to student-aid advocates… is the philosophy that underlies some of Mr. Ryan’s proposed cuts. Mr. Ryan has been vocal in saying he thinks that increasing federal student aid enables institutions to continue to raise tuition.

This is in line with Ryan’s general enthusiasm for financial austerity. As far as higher education spending should work, however, Ryan (who has no experience in state government) is apparently in favor of greater state spending. Stratford:

Mr. Ryan has said he believes investments in education are best made at the state level. On his Web site, he writes, “Rather than relying on the federal government to ensure that students are given the capability to fulfill their potential, education ought to be governed by state and local boards more ably qualified to determine student need.”

“Being a fiscal conservative isn’t necessarily anti-education,” [Director of the Wisconsin Center for the Advancement of Postsecondary Education Noel] Radomski said, but Mr. Ryan’s leave-it-to-the-states approach is a matter of concern for advocates of public higher education as states continue to disinvest in higher education.

There is one area where Ryan displays no interest in reducing federal government subsidies for higher education: for-profit colleges.

According to Stratford’s article Ryan joined House Republicans last year to oppose the Education Department’s “gainful employment” regulations, which specify that in order to continue to receive federal funding America’s vocational schools must make sure that at least 35 percent of former students are paying down their loans, former students must not have to pay more than 30 percent of their discretionary income on loan payments, and former students must not spend more than 12 percent of their total income on loan payments. The day after Romney announced his running mate the two men held a campaign event at a for-profit college. Federal student aid accounts for 90 percent of the revenue many for-profit colleges enjoy.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer