President Trump’s Plans for Higher Ed

David Acevedo

Editor's Note: This article was originally published under the name "John David," the former pseudonym of NAS Communications & Research Associate David Acevedo. To learn more about why David no longer writes under this name, click here.

CounterCurrent: Week of 10/11

Last week, I wrote to you on Democratic challenger Joe Biden’s higher education platform, which centers on promoting economic mobility by directing federal funds toward educational flexibility and student loan relief. This includes increased funding for community colleges, low- and middle-income students, and minority-serving institutions.

Now we’ll take a look at what President Trump is likely to do in higher education if he wins reelection. As the incumbent, Trump has not released a new agenda for this area, so we’ll have to rely on his record thus far and last year’s proposals to reform the Higher Education Act (HEA).

President Trump, alongside the Departments of Education, Justice, and State, accomplished much in the sphere of higher education since 2016. Some of these achievements can be found on his “Promises Kept” webpage, such as the expansion of Pell grant distribution, the reform of student loan servicing, and the increased accessibility of The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

Other key actions include the implementation of new Title IX regulations, the strengthening of free speech on campus, the partial ban of critical race theory and race/sex stereotyping in federally funded institutions, the formal recognition of China as a serious threat to higher education, and the launch of multiple investigations into racial discrimination in college admissions, including at Yale and Princeton. Surely, there is much more that may be mentioned, but these measures represent the broad categories in higher education on which the Trump administration has worked the last four years.

In terms of what President Trump may pursue in a second term, we can look to his “Proposals to Reform the Higher Education Act” issued in 2019. Most generally, these proposals concern decreasing the cost of college (and therefore the amount of student debt), protecting the rights of students and professors, and holding institutions accountable. If these sound familiar, it's because they are largely a continuation of Trump’s current first-term efforts.

Trump lists ten “Higher Education Reform Principles” in this proposal—I will not enumerate them here, but if you would like to get an idea of what a second term of higher education policies may look like, I would recommend giving it a read. But the overarching theme of all ten principles is really quite simple: put students first.

The Trump administration seems concerned with helping prospective students and their families make wise choices about college—both where to go and whether or not they should go at all—and supporting students while they are in college. This includes reforming accreditation policies to focus on student outcomes, tailoring higher education and alternative educational avenues to the needs of the modern workforce, holding institutions accountable for providing a quality education, mitigating the student debt crisis through encouraging responsible borrowing, and protecting the free speech and free exercise rights of students and professors.

The proposal itself provides the best summary:

The Trump Administration is committed to reforming higher education through legislation and regulatory reforms that provide more Americans access to a quality education, hold institutions accountable, and help students and families make informed decisions regarding their educational options.

Every presidential candidate, incumbent or challenger, makes extravagant promises, and none keep them all. That’s why only a second term will say for sure which of these proposals Trump will successfully implement. With the election just three weeks away, we’re bound to have an interesting month—and four years—ahead. So far both parties seem to agree on one thing: American higher education needs a thorough shake-up.

CounterCurrent is the National Association of Scholars’  weekly newsletter, written by Communications & Research Associate David Acevedo. To subscribe, update your email preferences here.

Image: Michael Vadon, Public Domain

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