Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Dabbling in Futurism: Higher Education during the Trump Administration

People are still wrestling with the results of the national election more than a month removed from an historic election on November 8.  Daily news reports contain speculation and information about possible cabinet appointments by president-elect Trump fueling fears and cheers depending upon how you feel about the outcome.  Within this context I am glad for this Christmas season because I can turn off the news and focus on wonderful Christmas movies and shows both airing on TV and playing on my DVD.  However, after several weeks of trying this as a means of escape, I still find myself wondering what a Trump administration and a DeVos led Education Department will mean for us in higher education. 

In my quest to put this question aside, I’ve scowered the Internet looking for clues.  Also, I have tried to recall my time in Michigan – Grand Rapids, Michigan to be precise - trying to  recall what I remembered about Ms. DeVos’ work with charter schools.  It is no secret that Ms. DeVos and the DeVos family are strong supporters of charter schools and school voucher programs.  Articles written since Trump’s announcement of Ms. DeVos as his pick for Secretary of Education have chronicled her position on charter schools and vouchers while raising questions about their effectiveness for improving educational outcomes for Michigan.  Certainly if past behavior is predictive of future behavior, DeVos will bring her advocacy of charter schools and vouchers to the nation. 

The national campaign contained very few clues about Mr. Trump’s positions on issues in higher education.  However, two sources provide a glimpse into Trump’s thinking on higher education.  The first was a speech he delivered in Cleveland, Ohio on October 13, 2016.  During the speech Trump referenced a concern about student loan debt suggesting that student loans should be capped at 12.5% of a graduates’ income.  Basing student loan repayment on a graduate’s income is not new and was also a position Hillary Clinton seemed to embrace.  Trump also talked about controlling college costs and quelling rising tuition by having institutions of higher education control “tremendous bloat” in administration.  This is not a new theme either. 

A second source of potential clues into Trump’s position on higher education is his campaign web site.  Visiting there on 12-14-2016 I found the following statements relevant to higher education:

  • 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.
  • Ensure that the opportunity to attend a two or four-year college, or to pursue a trade or a skill set through vocational and technical education, will be easier to access, pay for, and finish. (1)

These two points do not advance anything significantly new and raise the question about how might these reforms be accomplished. 

Based upon what little I was able to find about Trump and DeVos’ thinking on higher education I am left with little clues about what to think.  Is it possible that higher education is not a priority for Trump?  Is it possible that the higher education landscape includes sufficient enough “school choice” to avoid being on the radar?  So, just what is it that I should conclude based on the dearth of information available? 

“Tis the Season”, so rather than speculate about what we might get with a Trump administration, lets seize the moment and ask for what we want from a Trump administration.  

All I want for Christmas is…
  • ·      A higher education accountability system that measures completion rates based on ALL first time entering students both full and part time certificate and degree seeking students rather than the traditional IPEDS definition of graduation rates for first time, full time degree seeking students.
  • ·      Internet security and infrastructure upgrades in our rural communities to make on-line education secure and accessible to those citizens furthest away from our campuses who also need access to higher education.
  • ·      Access to venture capital grants to allow start up or expansion of career and technical certificate and degree programs to address the most critical workforce needs in our communities.
  • ·      A vision for higher education that inspires ALL people to believe in and trust education as a vehicle for making the workforce great again. 


The opinions expressed here are those of the author and are not representative of any institutions or organizations with whom the author works or associates. 


1.  Taken from:  https://www.donaldjtrump.com/policies/education/  accessed December 14, 2016.