Carson's Take on Higher Ed

Donald Trump says Ben Carson will play a "big role" advising the Trump campaign on education. So what has the retired neurosurgeon said about higher education?

March 14, 2016

Donald Trump hasn’t been too specific in his ideas for higher education. But the former reality television star and current front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination said one of his vanquished rivals, Ben Carson, would advise the Trump campaign on education policy.

Carson last week endorsed Trump, who said the former neurosurgeon would play a “big role” in the campaign, particularly on education and health care.

"We spoke for over an hour on education. And he has such a great handle on it," Trump said during a candidates’ debate on Thursday. "I'm going to have Ben very involved with education, something that's an expertise of his."

Carson’s now-defunct campaign platform also lacked specifics on higher education. But his comments on the trail give some clues about his thinking. Here are a few of those statements.

Monitoring ‘Extreme Bias’

Unlike several other past and present Republican presidential hopefuls, Carson has not said he would seek to abolish the U.S. Department of Education. One role the department would have played in his administration, Carson said, would be to “monitor our institutions of higher education for extreme political bias.”

The department should set up a complaint system for students, he said. After investigating complaints, he said the department should “deny federal funding” for colleges that are found to engage in extreme forms of bias.

Twice in recent years Carson has drawn fire prior to speeches he was scheduled to give on university campuses. In 2013 he withdrew from a planned address at the convocation for the medical school at Johns Hopkins University, where Carson worked as a pediatric neurosurgeon. Students protested the speech over comments Carson made in criticizing same-sex marriage (he compared gay-marriage supporters to people who back bestiality or pedophilia).

Carson has said he does not believe in evolution. As a result, faculty members at Emory University criticized the university’s invitation for him to speak at a commencement ceremony in 2012. Carson delivered the speech, criticizing political correctness in it.

"I think the other thing that threatens the prosperity and the vitality of our nation is political correctness," he said. "Many people came to this nation, and they were trying to escape from societies that try to tell them what they could say and what they could think. And here we come, reintroducing it through the back door."

Mizzou Protests

A few weeks later Carson weighed in on the student protests over racial discrimination that roiled the University of Missouri at Columbia. Speaking on Fox News, he said the Missouri students were engaged in "infantile behavior," adding that "we're being a little bit too tolerant, I guess you might say, accepting infantile behavior. I don't care which side it comes from. To say that I have the right to violate your civil rights because you're offending me is un-American."

Threat of Free College

Carson is no fan of Democratic presidential candidates' various debt-free or tuition-free college proposals, saying they would “hasten the destruction of the nation.” Speaking at Liberty University, Carson called the free-college discussion “propaganda” by “unscrupulous politicians and the news media.”

However, in another interview he made a flattering statement about European funding models for higher education, where government picks up the tab for medical school.

“One of the things that happens, for instance, in Europe, for medical school, is that you don’t have to pay for it. And, as a result, they don’t have the skew that we have here,” he told the Austin American-Statesman. “A lot of people, when they finish medical school, they’re hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt. And instead of, you know, doing what they may have wanted to do, which was maybe be a private -- a primary care doctor, they decide that I’d better become, you know, one of the specialists that makes a lot more money so I can pay this money back. That’s not an issue in Europe.”

Tuition and Student Debt

One way to combat rising tuition and student debt levels, according to Carson, is to require public universities to pay the interest on student loans, leaving only the principal of loan debt to students. This approach would motivate colleges to keep tuition rates low, he said, and is superior to the plan by Bernie Sanders, the Vermont senator and candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, to raise taxes to pay for free public college tuition.

“My plan is to make the colleges and universities responsible for the interest,” he said in a town hall meeting. “Students would be responsible for the loans themselves, but not for the interest. That’ll change things in a hurry.”


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