CHICAGO (CBS) — U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida) was in Chicago on Tuesday, delivering the first major policy speech in his bid for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.
Rubio spoke of education and innovation reforms at 1871, an incubator for technology startups, and seemed to be doing his best to distinguish himself from an increasingly crowded field of GOP presidential hopefuls.
At least 14 Republicans have said they’re running for president in 2016, and at least two others could soon join the race.
In outlining his domestic agenda, Rubio seemed to focus on two things: businesses eager to innovate, and Americans who see the middle class slipping out of their reach.
“Innovation will create millionaires, and even billionaires, but we must ensure it also creates a vibrant middle class, and that can only be done through the modernization of our higher education system,” he said.
It was no accident Rubio chose 1871 to deliver his message. The digital hub is full of entrepreneurs chasing their dreams, and millennials facing significant student loan debt.
Rubio’s proposed education reforms include a new college accreditation process, tied in part to low-cost innovations; income-based repayment of student loan debt; and the creation of student investment plans that would allow students to team up with investors to pay for their education, in exchange for a percentage of their earnings for several years. Colleges also would be required to tell students how much they could expect to earn after graduation.
“We do not need timid tweaks to the old system. We need a holistic overhaul. We need to change how we provide degrees, how those degrees are accessed, how much the access costs, and how those costs are paid, and even how those payments are determined,” Rubio said.
The senator criticized the old guard for using old ideas to solve modern problems.
Rubio didn’t mention any of his Republican rivals by name when he said that, but did include Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton in those references.
His visit to Chicago was brief, and he already has left and traveled to Iowa, for a number of campaign stops.
Political analyst and Roosevelt University professor Paul Greene says the Chicago appearances by Rubio and Donald Trump are all about raising money while there’s still time to raise it.
“Money is key right now you’ve got a lot of Republicans up there,” Greene said. “It’s like the Oklahoma land rush. They’re all running out to try and make a name for themselves.”
That’s because only the highest rated candidates will be invited to the first Republican debate, set for August 6.