Editor's note: This story originally ran November 9, and has been updated to reflect President Trump as being sworn in.
Though Education Dive readers couldn’t definitively pick between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, American voters have decided a winner.
As Donald J. Trump takes over as our nation’s 45th president, many are clear that business as usual isn't going to cut it anymore, a reality higher ed administrators across the country have been grappling with as they continue to look for ways to reinvent and reestablish the model and the industry's relevance in the 21st century.
Though education wasn’t much of a conversation during the election season, the economy and national security are very much dependent upon the country working together to solve some of the crises facing higher education.
Thomas Harnisch, director of state relations and policy analysis at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, said “affordability will be the biggest issue in higher education” for the newly-minted president. Preeminent in the affordability conversation will be a top-down effort “to dramatically lower the price of higher education in the public sector as well as investments in financial aid,” he said.
Some higher ed advocates say one way to promote affordability and increase access to students from lower-income families is to increase support for the federal Pell grant program. American Association of Community Colleges senior vice president for government relations and policy analysis David Baime said key for the president-elect will be working with Congress and his new Education Secretary to ensure the “program continues to receive annual increases without any cuts in student eligibility.”
Cheryl Smith, senior vice president of public policy and government affairs for the United Negro College Fund, said President-elect Trump will need to hone in on “the rising costs of college, reducing student debt, increasing the number of college-educated Americans, and getting more value from the $160 billion that the federal government spends on higher education.”
Throughout the election season, Trump promised to “work with Congress on reforms to ensure universities are making a good faith effort to reduce the cost of college and student debt in exchange for the federal tax breaks and tax dollars.” He recently proposed a plan to cap student loan payments at 12.5% of one’s income, with the balance eligible to be forgiven after 15 years.
His belief that universities should have some “skin in the game” on student debt may pose a challenge for many in the industry. Only one in five respondents to the recent issues survey believe colleges should put skin in the game, while most believe there are too many variables involved in student success to hold institutions directly responsible for outcomes.
Given his dedication to cutting federal involvement in education — even eliminating the Department of Education altogether — Trump is not likely to support increased federal support to higher education, nor is he likely to lean on states to increase funding to institutions from the Oval Office.
While private college leaders can rest a little easier at the idea that the marketplace will remain mostly level, state colleges may be closer to the reality that there will be no public funding in the coffers by 2025, a truth that is keeping many public presidents up at night.
Legislation on the table
Higher Education Act
The president-elect is not directly responsible for legislation, but a good president will work with Congress to help urge progress on key bills. And none is more highly anticipated than the Higher Education Act, which the 114th Congress failed to reauthorize.
With affordability and access taking center stage in the bill’s priorities, Smith said the bill presents “an important opportunity for greater investment in historically black colleges and universities, which have played — and are poised to play — an outsized role in helping greater numbers of minority youth obtain college degrees.” Trump has not specifically addressed the role of historically black colleges and universities in the higher education landscape, but as noted earlier, is not likely to push earmarks for specific subsets of the industry.
Accreditation, access and campus safety and sexual assault are also key components of the bill that will await the 115th Congress and President-elect Trump’s administration.
Campus safety and sexual assault was a huge priority for President Obama’s Department of Education, and Harnisch said “Title IX issues like combating campus sexual assault and LGBT equality remain on the policy agenda” for the next president as well.
In light of the lewd comments Trump made against women — and subsequently dismissed as “locker room talk” — his administration has a long road to walk to demonstrate his commitment to mitigating sexual assault and locker room or fraternity culture, which is often seen as a threat to women on campus.
In addition to the Higher Education Act, many are also anticipating the reauthorization of the Perkins Act, which focuses heavily on career and technical education. Baime said the Perkins Act, and specifically “providing support to community college job-related education and technical programs and students” is a top priority for AACU, and should be high on the radar for President-elect Trump.
Trump will have the benefit of a Republican majority in Congress, but his candidacy has largely divided the party, and it remains unclear whether he will be able to work with Congress in the manner needed to shepherd through key pieces of higher ed policy. While some of his rhetoric aligns with that of presumptive House Education and Workforce Committee Chair Virginia Foxx (R-NC), what role, if any, he will play in guiding these key pieces of legislation through Congress are uncertain.