Donald Trump and Higher Education

Weekly Read

November 15, 2016

For those of us in higher education who may be wondering what a Trump presidency entails for higher education, this week’s Weekly Read offers a survey of recent reflections on exactly this question.

Sara Goldrick-Rab, a professor of Higher Education Policy at Temple University provides a short-list of higher education policies she expects to see emerge from the Trump administration. Noting her extensive experience, as a professor at the University of Wisconsin, with the Scott Walker governorship in that state (a politician whom she describes as Trump’s nearest peer), Goldrick-Rab highlights three policy changes she expects to see: 1. Promotion of for-profit colleges and universities and a continuing defunding of public education. Trump has experience in for-profit education: Trump University. 2. College loan origination will return to private banks and underwriting will be introduced, meaning only worthy applicants will get loans. Enrollment will drop because fewer people will qualify for loans for tuition that won’t decline. 3. The Department of Education will be downsized (because big government is bad), and vulnerable populations will have fewer protections.

Writing in the Washington Post, Danielle Douglas-Gabriel adds some detail to Goldrick-Rab’s points, putting them in the context of President Obama’s higher education reforms. One reform the Obama administration and the Department of Education put in place was the gainful employment rule that placed regulations on for-profit colleges. These rules made for-profit colleges more accountable for earnings and loan debt of their graduates. A Trump administration might kill this law. Debt burdened students would be hurt the most by this roll-back. Since Trump’s campaign was policy-light, it’s hard to know what he will enact. If he aligns with Republican priorities, we can expect to see student loans turned over to private institutions.

Think-Progress takes a look at Trump’s deregulation and loan plans. In an October speech in Ohio, Trump proposed an income-driven repayment plan that would “cap loan repayments at 12.5 percent of a borrower’s income and then forgive the loans after 15 years.” This sounds good, until you consider another Trump campaign promise, to sharply reduce the size and authority of the Department of Education and the Republican Party’s goal to get the federal government out of the loan business. If both were to come true, the government would be responsible for paying banks hundreds of billions of dollars of unpaid debts after the 15-year loan forgiveness kicked in—a boon for Wall Street. Moreover, if privatized, student loan rates on the private market would rise from the current 4.75% rate to something more like 9.5 to 19%. Low-credit score borrowers could see lifetime repayments rising $7,340 to $24,470. Low-income students, meanwhile, would be considered bad-credit risks: they simply won’t go to college.

An issue raised by Inside Higher Ed was Trump’s call for “extreme vetting,” a process that would put in place an ideological test for anyone wishing to enter the United States, while suspending visas for anyone coming from countries “that have a history of exporting terrorism.” People in international higher education have said such policies would make it extremely difficult for students from Muslim countries to attend American colleges and universities and that they might go to friendlier nations like Canada or Australia for their education.

Finally, the name Ben Carson, has been floated as Trump’s possible selection for Secretary of Education. This is from the New Republic: “Brace yourselves for Education Secretary Ben Carson. Carson, who believes God created the world in seven days and that the Egyptians built the pyramids to store grain, is reportedly Trump’s top pick for the job.” Carson denies the scientific validity of evolution and climate change.

That’s the summary. Make of it what you will.

Tim Strode, PhD  NCC/AAUP


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