What’s Out and What’s In for Higher Education in a Trump Presidency!

Dear Commons Community,

Goldie Blumenstyk, a writer for The Chronicle of Higher Education, has an article this morning speculating on “what’s out and what’s in” for higher education policy during Donald Trump’s presidency.  Below is a synopsis. 

Ms. Blumenstyk is on target with some of her speculations.

We will have to wait and see!




Title IX enforcement on sexual assault. 

It won’t go away completely, of course. But it’s hard to imagine the next administration adopting the same aggressive posture taken by the current Office for Civil Rights, considering the way many Republicans, would-be Trump insiders, and even some colleges feel about the office’s approach over the past several years. Ditto for protecting the rights of gay and transgender people.

Free college. 

The idea was championed during the 2016 campaign by Sen. Bernie Sanders and then by the party’s nominee, Hillary R. Clinton, so ’nuff said about that. Meanwhile, however, groups like the Campaign for Free College Tuition continue to promote it as a policy states and communities should embrace.

Graduate PLUS Loans. 

Or at least the high levels of borrowing currently allowed under this program. Such loans are considered by many Republicans (and some Democrats) as the kind of easy-money source of funding that does little to encourage colleges to curtail their prices, especially when the borrowers can later roll their obligations into loan-forgiveness programs.

Loan forgiveness. 

Student-loan reformers had targeted such programs for curtailment even before the release last month of an attention-grabbing report from the Government Accountability Office.

Center for American Progress. 

Of all of the advocacy groups focused on higher education, this one was the most visibly tied to Democrats — a Hillary Clinton administration in waiting, as some saw it. It won’t be at the policy helm now, but it’s already begun to embrace its outsider status with a new “Resist” campaign that is opposing expected policies of the Trump administration, including the nomination of Betsy DeVos.

Heightened federal enforcement of for-profit colleges. 

The Education Department’s internal “student-aid enforcement unit” and an interagency task force were created in response to concerns about abusive recruiting practices at for-profit institutions and other poor-performing colleges. They could fall victim to changing priorities. The fate of the internal enforcement unit could be hard to track from outside the department, but the interagency task force, which involves the Education Department, the Federal Trade Commission, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the U.S. Departments of Defense, Labor, and the Treasury, has already made one high-profile enemy in Sen. John McCain, the Arizona Republican who last week called for its immediate abolition after criticizing the agencies for their treatment of the University of Phoenix.

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. 

This body, created in the wake of the financial crisis of 2008, has sued several of the major for-profit-college companies over their student-loan programs. The bureau is disliked by many Republicans, who may now feel even more emboldened — and have the votes in the Senate — to dismantle or weaken it.

“State authorization” rules for distance education and “borrower defense” rules governing when students are entitled to have their loans discharged. 

Welcomed by many student groups and consumer advocates, both have been criticized by college leaders as examples of regulatory overreach. Both regulations were issued within the past few months, which could make them particularly easy to repeal under the Congressional Review Act. Ditto for newly issued rules on teacher education.

The “gainful employment” rule. 

One of the signature policies of the Obama administration, the regulation has been a key tool for cracking down on career-focused programs that saddle students with unmanageable debt relative to their earnings. Some colleges have cited the rule as a reason for their closure. It won’t be easy to repeal the regulation in full, but portions of it will be prime targets for Congress, if not the new Education Department, to eliminate.


Income-share agreements. 

These financing tools, in which investors help finance students’ educations in return for a percentage of their earnings, are a trendy idea among the innovation crowd. They are especially popular in conservative circles.

Risk sharing. 

The idea that colleges should bear some of the cost when their students default on federal loans has been gaining fans in Congress. Many policy makers even see it as better than looking at default rates to determine eligibility for federal student aid. As the debates over this approach proceed, expect to see many lawmakers and others draw from eight new papers on risk sharing, published on Monday, that outline various issues and options.

Private lending. 

Not a return to the bank-based student-loan system that was fully phased out under President Obama  — even student-loan experts like Beth Akers, a senior fellow at the free-market Manhattan Institute, says that was a “a terrible way to bring in market forces” to student lending. But with so many conservatives arguing for a greater role for “private capital” in student loans, some form of new federally sanctioned option could be on the table, perhaps even to fill the gap if PLUS Loans for graduate students are curtailed.

Competency-based education. 

Of all the ideas promoted by the “disruptive innovation” crowd, this is the one that seems to have the most bipartisan support. But a cloud now hangs over such programs because the Education Department’s Office of Inspector General, an independent arm of the agency, has questioned whether such programs run afoul of rules requiring substantial interaction between faculty members and students for programs to receive federal student aid.

The Republican congressional staff. 

The aides who work for committees and individual members do much of the heavy lifting when it comes to forging federal laws, and with the policy locus expected to shift to Capitol Hill, the aides will be the ones in the best position to sweat — and decide — the details. (Higher-education issues aren’t always partisan, so look for some aides on the Democratic side to be key players too.)

American Enterprise Institute, Heritage Foundation, Hoover Institution, Manhattan Institute. 

Policy wonks at each of those right-leaning groups have already begun talking with the transition team, and their ideas are likely to be even more welcome with Republicans in charge of policy.

Federal student aid for education providers that bypass traditional accreditation. 

The Obama administration took steps in that direction with a program known as Equip, but many policy advocates and political leaders around the country are keen to see a lot more of the approach.

Skills training. 

Employer groups continue to decry the five to six million jobs going unfilled in the country because of the so-called skills gap. That alone should kick up the demand for programs that can help young people and adults get more skills.

Jeb Bush. 

Mr. Trump famously mocked the former Florida governor during the campaign as “low energy” before defeating him in the primaries. But as Michael B. Horn, a writer, consultant, and education-company investor notes, Mr. Bush also has close connections to Ms. DeVos through the Foundation for Excellence in Education, which he founded and on whose board she has served.



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