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May 25, 2012 5:39 PM Romney, Reformer

By Daniel Luzer

Mitt Romney recently revealed his education advisers and a list of polices he would implement if elected president. Readers interested in understanding Romney’s K-12 plans should check out this piece by Kevin Carey over at The New Republic.

It should be clear by now that Romney really isn’t much of a higher ed guy, but it turns out he does have some policy ideas to change college financing. They’re mostly pretty lousy.

According to an article by Jordan Weissmann at The Atlantic:

Mitt Romney has released his plan for bringing down the cost of higher education, and although it’s not extensive, it is enough to tell us where his heart is on the issue. And, unsurprisingly, his heart is in the private sector.

Two polices in particular stand out. Weissmann:

Getting Banks Back Into Student LendingRomney claims that when Obama “nationalized the student loan market,” he “drove away private lenders and moved a trillion-dollar obligation to the federal balance sheet.” This simply isn’t true. The government was already on the hook for that money — that’s what it means when to guarantee a loan. If it goes bad, you pay. Other than that, Romney makes some noise about private lenders offering students more information and choice. Again, this is nonsense, unless you believe the banks were doing a fabulous job informing 18-year-olds about the risks of taking out debt before 2010. The long and the short of it: This idea looks like a give-away to the banks, or possibly a way to weaken the federal direct lending program.
Unleashing For-Profit CollegesRomney would like to see less regulation across the economy, and higher education is no exception. He specifically singles out the “gainful employment” rule, which cuts off federal financial aid for vocational schools that fail to place enough of their graduates in decently paying jobs. The for-profit college industry fought an all-hands-on-deck lobbying battle against the regulation and would still love to see it disappear (It’s probably no coincidence that two Romney’s education advisers previously lobbied for Apollo Group, corporate parent of The University of Phoenix).

Romney, who apparently paid less than $4,000 a year to send each of his children to college, admittedly might not understand too well how higher education pricing works, but there’s no need to get terribly philosophical about this.

One need not worry about opposing these ideas for ideological reasons; we already know they just won’t work.

We know this because we’ve tried them before. When George W. Bush was president he loosened restrictions on how for-profit colleges could do business. This did not result in college cost decreases.

Also under the Bush administration, banks were still heavily involved in student lending. When Obama kicked them out college costs did not go up for students (or not any more than they do every year).

As a nation it’s definitely time to consider new polices to reduce the cost of college, but the important thing here is new polices. There’s no reason to go back and try old out some old ideas that have already proven ineffective.

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