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Conservative Student Loan Ideas Work—So Why Does the GOP Ignore Them?

As students arrive on campus this fall, political controversies such as speaker disinvitations, protests, riots, and professor bias will come to dominate conservative media [1]. But while rallies and far-right guest speakers [2] can certainly stir up controversy, conservative students should set aside those tactics. Instead they should reach out to politically liberal and neutral college students by offering conservative solutions to the problem that concerns them the most [3]: high tuition.

There are plenty of students open to persuasion on this subject. Last year, the University of California, Los Angeles released a study [3] on the political viewpoints of college freshman and found [4] that 35 percent identify as liberal or far-left, and 22 percent identify as conservative or far-right. That difference in itself is not encouraging for Republicans, but it’s also true that more new students identified as neutral (42 percent) than with either political extreme. Given that young people as a whole have fairly liberal social attitudes [5], it makes sense to introduce them to a conservatism of ideas that will practically improve their lives.

The image of the Bernie Sanders-loving Millennial college student is an accurate one—after all, more Millennials voted [6] for the democratic socialist senator in the 2016 primaries than for Trump and Clinton combined. But that’s because Sanders focused more on issues that matter to them, like tuition and the burden of student loans, than the other candidates—Hillary’s asking for an emoji-driven [7] explanation of student loan debt notwithstanding. The Vermont senator’s solutions might be foolhardy—“free” college would cost over $800 billion [8] and end up benefiting wealthy families the most [9]—but his political savvy is undeniable.

It isn’t enough for conservatives to focus on the flaws of Sanders’ proposals. Pointing them out does not address the problems that led young people to support Sanders in the first place.

College tuition has risen almost 200 percent [10] over the past 20 years, nearly four times faster than inflation. Democrats [11] blame the rise in tuition on lower funding [12] from state governments, which theoretically forces universities to rely on higher tuition to raise revenue. However, lower state funding is not [13] the cause of higher tuition. The American Enterprise Institute found [14] that a dollar less in state government funding for higher education translated to only five cents higher tuition. This shows that colleges respond to lower state-level subsidies by decreasing spending on research and administration, not by raising tuition.

However, the expansion of federal subsidies for student loans has been a leading cause of tuition increases. In a comprehensive 2017 study [15], the Federal Reserve Bank of New York found that 60 percent of federal government student loan subsidies end up raising tuition. In other words, an additional dollar of federal government student loan subsidies means 60 cents higher tuition and only 40 cents benefits to students.

Further, the money that universities get from that higher tuition has mostly been wasted on hiring administrators—college employees that neither conduct research nor teach courses. Between 1993 and 2009, administrative spending at colleges rose [16] by 60 percent, 10 times as much as faculty spending. This means that colleges have been using higher tuition to expand school bureaucracy, not to increase quality of education. If conservative student activists really want to make the case for small government, there’s no better way than by showing how the federal student loan subsidy program does more to enrich school administrations than help students.

Fortunately, there’s an excellent model of how to rein in college tuition costs. Former Indiana governor Mitch Daniels [17] became president of Purdue University in 2013. Since then, he has frozen tuition for both in-state and out-of-state attendees, which has been extremely popular: Purdue has seen a 56 percent increase in applications since that change. Daniels made this tuition freeze possible by slashing the university’s operating budget and pioneering the “Degree in 3 [18]” program, which allows students to take a heavy course load and graduate in three years, saving tens of thousands of dollars. The former Indiana governor has also expanded options for online and technical education, as well as interest-free financial aid.


Clearly, young people respond well to these ideas. Conservative proposals to improve higher education are popular when implemented, but GOP leaders do not place them center stage, instead choosing to focus on taxes [19] and immigration [20]. Conversely, leading contenders for the Democratic nomination in 2020, such as Senators Elizabeth Warren [21] and Bernie Sanders [22], have long put the cost of higher education at the center of their political agendas. To a casual observer, the Republican Party does not seem interested in addressing the student loan crisis.

The GOP can’t win over college students if these students don’t know about its solutions to their problems. Educating the rest of the student body on policies to reduce tuition rates should be the top priority of campus conservatives.

Alex Muresianu is a Young Voices contributor studying economics at Tufts University. His writing has appeared in The Federalist and the Washington Examiner. He can be found on Twitter @ahardtospell [23]. ‌

22 Comments (Open | Close)

22 Comments To "Conservative Student Loan Ideas Work—So Why Does the GOP Ignore Them?"

#1 Comment By The easiest solution On September 28, 2018 @ 4:51 pm

How about just getting rid of the federal student loan program? If borrowing money for college is a good investment, private loan agencies would be willing to make the loans. Without federally guaranteed student loans which Universities have no skin in the game, how could they keep jacking up tuition every year?

#2 Comment By Ksw On September 28, 2018 @ 5:04 pm

Hmm. Maybe the GOP isn’t really very interested in college education for the masses.

#3 Comment By Brian James On September 28, 2018 @ 5:55 pm

“It is easier to rob by setting up a bank than by holding up a bank clerk.” Bertolt Brecht

#4 Comment By Ken T On September 28, 2018 @ 6:14 pm

The problem is that this post rests on the demonstrably false premise that the GOP has any interest whatsoever in actually solving problems. Forget the words they say, look past the campaign rhetoric and focus on what they have actually done. For the last 40 years the only issues they have acted on are those that have the effect of shoveling more and more money from the middle class to the 1%. Nothing else matters to them except saying whatever they have to in order to get elected.

#5 Comment By tz On September 28, 2018 @ 7:20 pm

Trump should have a one year bankruptcy for anything for any reason including student loans and credit cards (which would cause the economy to take off when the debt slaves are freed).

And let the risks be spread instead of allowing the debt slavery

#6 Comment By John_M On September 28, 2018 @ 7:30 pm

As with all opinion pieces, this is an oversimplification, but what Daniels has done is interesting. But there is a lot more opportunity for savings than is described here – much of it outside of the university itself.

First, move more college level work into the high school and/or combine the last two years of high school with college. In Washington, this is known as the Running Start program. Students can graduate from high school at the same time as they get their associates degree. My son did not do that, but had a year of transfer-level college credits when he went to the university. My daughter lived at home and commuted by bus (1 hour ++) when she went to the university.

Where possible, live at home and commute. Room and board can be more expensive than in-state tuition. Not all students can take advantage of this, but many can.

Do your first two years of classes as community colleges and then transfer. Community colleges are cheaper and typically are within commuting range of home. Once again, not all students can do this, and it doesn’t work for all majors, but a lot of students can take advantage of it and save money.

Typically you pay the same for 12 to 18 credits. Take the heaviest load you can handle.

#7 Comment By AtomicZeppelinMan On September 28, 2018 @ 9:26 pm

The true conservative solution to higher education is to go back to when only the children of the aristocracy had the time to go to college. It all went to hell as soon as we let the poors leave the farms and coal mines. Back to work hippies!

#8 Comment By TheScientist880 On September 29, 2018 @ 8:41 am

This article doesn’t deal with the actual issue it seeks to highlight. If you remove the government subsidized loan, how do kids who don’t have wealthy families pay for college? Perdue costs an average of $13,516 after aid is provided for in state students. For those out of state, it costs $41,834 before aid (I don’t have the after aid numbers for out of state students). While capping this tuition is good, this price is still drastically out of reach for working class kids and middle class families. The in state cost is equivalent to what private schools costed 40 years ago. I received a full academic scholarship to Georgetown for undergrad covering my tuition and received a scholarship from the town my high school was in for room and board. I was only responsible for my meal plan and books and STILL I was almost constantly signing up late for cosss because of the cost of school compared to my parent’s income.

The author ignores the fact that free college at point of use was a thing in America just 2 generations ago. This really isn’t some pie in the sky idea as many countries in the developed world provide this to this day. I see nothing here to win over millenials.

#9 Comment By Kaare Bækgaard On September 29, 2018 @ 2:36 pm

According to university rankings more than half of the world’s top 200 universities are located in either the US or the UK.

The two education systems are comparable in quality, but a degree in Britain cost half as much as its American counterpart.

The British government sets a limit for tuition fees and yet Oxford and Cambridge still manage to give Harvard and Stanford a run for their money.

When the budget is limited, people tend to get creative.

#10 Comment By cka2nd On September 29, 2018 @ 2:55 pm

I’d like to know how Daniels slashed the operating budget before I sign off on his policies. If it’s more adjunct faculty, larger class and poverty-rate contracted out jobs (or high-cost contracting out where the middleman takes a big bite out of the worker’s check), then No Thanks. If he instead eliminated half a dozen Vice-Chancellors, a cool score of Associate Deans and a layer or two of middle managers, then I’ll listen.

By the way, what’s WRONG with free or low-cost tuition? Historically, that’s how public institutions of higher learning operated for a century or more all over the country (and, Oh, how the elites squealed when the system spread from the West, Midwest and South to the Northeast, and started undercutting those private colleges and universities they had created and that had dominated the local “market” for so long). You’d think conservatives would be interested in preserving, or returning to, a device that helped build the best system of post-secondary education the world has ever seen?

#11 Comment By Arnold Ian Reeves On September 29, 2018 @ 6:01 pm

Alex Muresianu raises some good points here. But the proverbial elephant in the room has not been mentioned even once in the article. Namely, the gazillions of whining semi-literate SJW snowflakes who should not be at college at all.

A genuinely conservative college-related policy would involve cutting back the overall student population to, say, 1950s levels. This is a sine qua non.

In Britain, Ireland, and increasingly Australia we’re seeing the preposterous situation where persons doing skilled and lucrative but non-college-related jobs – plumbers, electricians, tilers, and so forth – have to be imported from Poland and from elsewhere in eastern Europe, because most of the locals are simply too useless and addicted to the entitlement culture to get their hands dirty at all. Is that really what Americans want?

#12 Comment By FL Transplant On September 29, 2018 @ 6:22 pm

1. Congrats to Daniels for holding tuition firm. But what’s happened below to line to allow for that? “Slashing the operating budget” can mean most anything. Did he end the “student activities fee” the charges students hundreds a year to cover the costs of the University’s athletic programs? What’s been happening to the cost of rooms and board–has that gone up, or held steady as well? How about facilities maintenance–you can easily save lots of money by eliminating everything except emergency calls, until the roofs collapse, the latrines are unusable, and the HAVC won’t function.

2. There are a number of states with Republican-controlled Legislatures–I live in one. The Legislature continually blames “libruls and their student loans” for the high cost of state colleges–colleges that are under their complete control. How about actually digging into the cost structure, performing some real analysis and evaluation, and proposing needed changes to reduce the costs, instead of blaming everyone else for things that are under their full control?

3. My state has a higher education system with over a dozen separate schools (both universities and colleges) at disbursed campuses. What an opportunity! Offer a limited selection of degrees at each, guarantee a four year graduation if someone follows the proscribed plan for that major by ensuring prerequisite classes are always available (no more of the
“I know that course is mandatory for your major, but it’s only offered in alternate years and you missed it last year, so you co\an’t take it until next year), minimize social services offered to students (which is where the vile bureaucracy resides), minimize non-academic related things (yes, no intercollegiate sports, no school support for clubs beyond making facilities available for meetings as examples)…There are many opportunities to cut costs, and experimenting with a campus or two to see what works has always struck me as an opportunity for success–find out exactly how price-sensitive students and their families really are. But no Republican-controlled Legislature has been willing to take the first steps towards meaningful reform–it’s easier to point fingers at The Other and claim it’s all their fault because of global forces they’re captive to.

#13 Comment By spite On September 29, 2018 @ 8:37 pm

There are too many college students, too many of them are getting debt for degrees that they should have never invested in. The correct solution is to reduce the number of students (and thus the debt) and provide better alternatives.

#14 Comment By cka2nd On September 30, 2018 @ 2:43 am

tz says: “Trump should have a one year bankruptcy for anything for any reason including student loans and credit cards (which would cause the economy to take off when the debt slaves are freed). And let the risks be spread instead of allowing the debt slavery.”

A good, old fashioned Jubilee Year. I like it, even if this old, Christian tradition has probably been more popular among progressives in recent years than among its natural, conservative base.

#15 Comment By Socrates On September 30, 2018 @ 5:23 pm

As someone who’s economically more interested in Swedish, German, or Norwegian models than the U.S. one, I even find the evidence on federal student aid distortion convincing.

However, to answer the question the author posed in the title, the reason that the GOP is ignoring ideas like this is because its donor class would prefer to have a bunch of compliant debt serfs employed in its businesses.

If you need any evidence of this, research how DeVos loaded the DOE with for-profit insiders and then, shockingly, systematically slowed or stopped help to students who were defrauded by for-profit institutions.



#16 Comment By Pragmatic On October 1, 2018 @ 5:54 am

TAC – it is frustrating that you cannot directly reply to comments made. A lot of what is said in the comments is factually wrong. I’d love to address it directly. Would really appreciate if you added that option.

#17 Comment By JWJ On October 1, 2018 @ 4:57 pm

Great, great post. Unlike most articles on the increasing costs of university, you identified the key points for the rise.

“College tuition has risen almost 200 percent over the past 20 years, nearly four times faster than inflation.”

“…the expansion of federal subsidies for student loans has been a leading cause of tuition increases.
“Between 1993 and 2009, administrative spending at colleges rose by 60 percent, 10 times as much as faculty spending.”

My quick research shows that from the mid-1980s to now, the cost of tuition (and fees) at a major public [in-state] was around $2,000 to $3,000 per year [inflation adjusted].
That same number today is around $9,000 to $12,000 per year.

Housing and meal plan has gone from around $6,500 [inflation adjusted] in the mid-1980’s to around $11,500 now.

The only way to lower the price of university is to cut the non-teaching admin positions. Probably by around 40-60%.
Even if the adjunct faculty get a 10% to 20% raise, the annual cost of public university, WITH housing, could drop to around $12K to $13K per year.

#18 Comment By Tweedlexx On October 1, 2018 @ 5:45 pm

Pragmatic: Why not do what I just did?

#19 Comment By sglover On October 1, 2018 @ 7:37 pm

Just another day at TAC: Here we have a screed that claims to be about problems with student loans, even purports to offer “solutions” (ha!). Yet it never once mentions the most onerous aspect of education debt — that it cannot be discharged, that it is exempt from bankruptcy.

All in all a waste of pixels. Worthy of TAC, though.

#20 Comment By Anne (the other one) On October 1, 2018 @ 11:48 pm

One of the biggest problems is college pricing. College list the full tuition price and gives scholarships to students. Sometimes these scholarships require a certain average be maintained. Other scholarships have no requirements. A set price for all \so students knew the exact cost before applying. A truthfulness in pricing law is needed.

I found high school guidance counselors tend to push every student into college. Stop rewarding high schools with higher rating by the number of students accepted to colleges. It is a flawed system. Introduce high school guidance counselors on technical training programs. Encourage students and parents to attend programs explaining them. To put training programs on the same level as colleges, a government push is needed to make it happen.

In Germany, students are tracked into college or trade in fifth grade. Of course, Germany still has manufacturing for employment after trade schools. Our snowflakes need the same guidance.

#21 Comment By kevin on the left On October 2, 2018 @ 12:16 am

“Namely, the gazillions of whining semi-literate SJW snowflakes who should not be at college at all.

A genuinely conservative college-related policy would involve cutting back the overall student population to, say, 1950s levels. This is a sine qua non.

This sine qua non would lead to a rapid decline in a the number of business, hospitality, and sports majors, not at the numbers of “SJWs” (who tend to be from exactly the same background that would get you into school in the 1950s).

#22 Comment By kevin on the left On October 2, 2018 @ 12:18 am

“If you need any evidence of this, research how DeVos loaded the DOE with for-profit insiders and then, shockingly, systematically slowed or stopped help to students who were defrauded by for-profit institutions.

This. What Daniels might or not be doing is interesting, but he is out of politics. And the republican policy re: higher education is to dismantle whatever modest steps the Obama administration took in regards to predatory lending by degree (or rather, one third degree) mills.