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Students see stars

BY BRENT GRIFFITHS | JULY 09, 2015 5:00 AM

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Poolside in Coralville, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said colleges and universities are stuck in “yesterday.” The candidate for the GOP presidential nomination stressed the need for a more packaged and high-tech alternative to the ivory towers of old.

“We cannot to graduate people for American universities and college with thousands of dollars in student-loan debt for degrees that do not lead to jobs,” Rubio said in front of around 120 people at a fundraiser in Coralville on Wednesday.

Sticking mostly to his standard speech, Rubio spelled out what his “new American century” would mean for the country. Afterward, a number of attendees said the message resonated with them — especially when the senator detailed what it would mean from higher education.

A couple of University of Iowa students also went to see Rubio. Andrea Holdsworth said she was not ready to support Rubio in the caucuses, but she was “very pleased” with Rubio’s views.

Holdsworth said she would like to see a greater focus on experiential learning, a point Rubio also touched on.

“Your résumé is your job experience, and education should be more than just sitting in the corner memorizing something,” said Holdsworth, who was part of the University of Iowa College Republicans.

The fundraiser benefiting Sen. Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny, and Iowa Senate Republicans marked Rubio’s first in the UI local area since 2014. At the time Rubio stumped for then-U.S. Senate hopeful Joni Ernst on the UI campus.

Whitver said the senator would be back in Iowa often — including tours through central and northwestern Iowa in the coming weeks.

Connecting the campaign trail to his work in U.S. Senate, Rubio brought up “the student right to know before you go act.”

Introduced in June with Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., the bill would direct the secretary of Education to require universities to publish a number of metrics. In particular, schools would be required to display postgraduate earning averages, average federal loan debt, and transfers rates, along with a handful of others.

Such information, Rubio joked, would give “Roman philosophy” majors something to consider when they pick what to study.

One the youngest of the 2016 hopefuls, Rubio was quick to point out the Coralville crowd skewed slightly toward middle-aged professionals.

Beyond traditional four-year degree programs, he pushed for a broader focus on skilled trades. In his view, the United States no longer places enough of an emphasis on the area.

“For the life of me, I don’t understand why in the world we stopped training people to be welders, electricians, airplane mechanics, and body-shop technicians,” he said. “If I’m president of the United States, vocational training will be a priority. We will stop telling kids that only way forward is a traditional four-year degree, because that isn’t true, especially in the 21st century.”

Those comments resonated with Ryan Smith, who works in the local real-estate business. Smith said finding people to do the type of jobs he needs is increasingly difficult.

“This country went down the wrong road when kids stopped working with their hands,” he said.

Whitver, the Iowa Senate Republican whip, said one of the reasons he backed Rubio was because he feels the presidential hopeful can appeal to broad range of Republicans in Iowa, and in turn, throughout the country.

“There are very few candidates who can unite the party,” Whitver said afterwards. “He has that magical touch to bring a coalition together.”

With such a large field — 14 GOP hopefuls have declared so far — there’s bound to be jockeying for the various types of caucus voters.

Rubio’s speech suggests that, given his age and policy preferences, he may make a play for young voters in the caucuses.

If so, Christopher Larmier, a University of Northern Iowa associate professor of political science, said Rubio will find Rand Paul, and to a larger extent his father, Ron Paul, has been courting the same crowd for some time.

“The advantage for Paul is that his father made a solid base of young people when he ran,” Larmier said. “Whereas Rubio is still somewhat unknown in terms of his policies.”


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