New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) spoke about student debt, school choice and teacher accountability at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa, on Thursday. Christie is expected to announce a presidential run soon.
After delivering an account of how his father, an excellent student who was accepted at Columbia University, enlisted in the Army instead because he couldn’t afford the tuition, Christie said debt-free college was not the answer.
Christie said students shouldn’t expect to receive a degree that will significantly improve their earnings for nothing, but he mixed more conservative rhetoric with an acknowledgement that students should be able to receive some assistance.
He cited his father’s choice to attend Rutgers University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting after six years of both attending school and continuing to work, as the reason his father was able to get a career working on Wall Street for 40 years. Christie’s father attended through the G.I. bill.
“But it’s also the story of how our system is supposed to work – a system where we all need to take personal responsibility to grasp the opportunities of higher education, but also one where we can get a leg up when we need it.”
Christie suggested that “Congress should reconsider its spending priorities when it comes to education,” saying:
“Over the last 10 years, the only federal student aid programs to be cut have been for the neediest students … Perkins Loans – one of the oldest and most valuable student aid programs for those with “exceptional financial need” – declined by 54 percent over the last decade.”
Although Christie said Congress should “properly fund and expand” student aid programs, he didn’t give any specific figures. The governor also held up Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad’s (R) Student Debt Reduction Organization tax credits idea as a model for financing low-income students’ education. Branstad’s tax credit would give taxpayers, including companies, the ability to give money to student debt reduction organizations and receive tax credits.
Some research suggests that providing tax credits won’t tackle the problem of college affordability for low-income students as well as grants, however. According to a new paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research, college attendance didn’t go up in households that were eligible for tax credits, which aren’t as accessible as grants.
Christie also mentioned income share agreements, which allow students to essentially issue stock in themselves. It allows people to invest in college students, or to “own human capital contracts,” which means that an investor could pay a portion of the student’s tuition to attend college in exchange for that student giving the investor a certain percentage of their income for so many years.
In addition to college affordability, Christie briefly mention his education record in New Jersey. He touted the introduction of merit pay to Newark schools, and the expansion of charter schools. Christie took plenty of shots at teachers unions, which he said were putting the “comfort of adults ahead of the potential of our kids.” Despite Christie’s focus on student debt, he argued that New Jersey teachers wanted to “throw more money” at the problem of education quality:
“The pessimists, led by the teachers’ unions, declared that unless you have a PhD in education, your solutions are too simplistic. More money was the only real solution.”