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July 03, 2012 1:54 PM The Best Education You Can Afford

By Daniel Luzer

In this presidential campaign Mitt Romney only wants to talk about the economy. This is perhaps just as well because, in the rare occasions where he tries to talk about some other issue, the results can be puzzling and awkward. This is particularly true of college costs, where he thinks that things are working out pretty well. Americans should seek only as much education as “they can afford,” he seemed to say recently.

I’ve pointed out before that many of Mitt Romney’s ideas about college seem to be are characterized largely by their apparent basis on inaccurate, or limited information. Just don’t ask him questions about higher education. The answers will almost always make no sense.

According to a piece by Pat Garofalo at Think Progress, Romney once again said something strange about college:

While extolling the virtues of America as “the land of opportunity for every single person,” Romney said that he believes students should only be able to get as much education “as they can afford:
I think this is a land of opportunity for every single person, every single citizen of this great nation. And I want to make sure that we keep America a place of opportunity, where everyone has a fair shot. They get as much education as they can afford and with their time they’re able to get and if they have a willingness to work hard and the right values, they ought to be able to provide for their family and have a shot of realizing their dreams.

This isn’t a radical opinion. But how much education does Romney think most Americans can afford under current policy? It’s a little hard to tell, but his own experience with higher education suggests that his beliefs about how expensive college is might be unusual.

In fact, he probably thinks college in America is pretty cheap. Romney sent all five of his sons to Brigham Young University. Because BYU is owned and operated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Mormons can attend BYU for about $4,000 a year.

Romney might think that because he is an incredibly rich man who paid such a small amount of send his own children to school, his experience with education is somewhat typical. With all of this government-backed financial aid available, college must be really cheap. It must cost like, $300 a year for poor people to send their kids to college. What’s someone doing with $60,000 worth of debt? These people must be idiots.

In fact, however, the average tuition at a public institution (which about 80 percent of American college students attend) is about $16,000 a year. That’s a more serious number.

Ultimately, Romney’s point isn’t ridiculous. People should be able to get the best education they can afford. It’s just that most people can’t afford very much, at least not without going into debt to pay for it.

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