Home On the Agenda What Do We Know About Trump’s Plan For Higher Ed?

What Do We Know About Trump’s Plan For Higher Ed?

November 17, 2016

While details remain hazy, President-Elect Trump has given a few indications on his transition website and during rallies regarding what he’d pursue.

With Donald Trump’s win last week, I found myself uncertain about what the results of the presidential election mean for higher education. I share this feeling with many of my higher education peers. The uncertainty is not due to a lack of curiosity. Rather, the president-elect hasn’t really talked in detail about his higher education plans. In fact, the first time he referenced the issue on the campaign trail was during a rally in Columbus, Ohio on October 13, 2016, less than a month before the election.

As he now prepares for the presidency, President-Elect Trump’s higher education plans and policy initiatives need to be fleshed out. While details remain hazy, he’s given a few indications on his transition website and during rallies regarding what he’d pursue.

Specifically, Trump has indicated on his transition website he would like to work towards lifting or softening regulations from the U.S. Department of Education that inhibit innovation. He also suggested that he and his administration will integrate technology enriched delivery models in an effort to make higher education options more affordable and accessible for students. And during the October rally, he’s indicated support for income-based student loan repayments.

While these approaches, on face-value, sound positive and could potentially receive bipartisan support, no additional details are provided on his transition website. It’s hard to further speculate on what a well thought-out, operationalized plan would look like. And it’s therefore hard to assess the merit of these proposals.

Still, given our deep background in higher education, I wanted to explore what these paths mean for the students, faculty, administrators and taxpayers they would affect.


While fostering innovation is important, it can’t be done without ensuring quality. In competency-based education for example, quality standards are just begging to emerge as a tool for schools to use when they build and design their competency-based programs. Such standards ensure that students enrolled in competency-based education programs are receiving a high-quality education that prepares them for success after college. Innovation is widely supported, but we don’t want to put student and taxpayer dollars at risk simply to innovate.


One of the more common higher education themes touted by Democrats during the campaign season was higher education affordability. With skyrocketing costs making college out-of-reach for many students, both Secretary Hillary Clinton and Senator Bernie Sanders endorsed policies for making college free. As I’ve written before, while cost and access are important priorities in higher education, completion is as critical a problem, though it may be a less easy concept to rally around. Still, free college policies garner a great deal of support among the American public (though there is a political divide.)

Trump has not endorsed free college, though he did briefly touch on rising tuition during the October rally. He called out colleges with large endowments and threatened to terminate tax-exempt status if endowment funds are not used to off-set student tuition. “If colleges refuse to take this responsibility seriously, they will be held accountable,” he said.

Student Debt

While Trump’s transition website is short on details regarding his plan to address higher education affordability, his speech at the October rally offers a bit more insight. Specifically, he noted that student debt “should not be an albatross.” He tied this statement to plans regarding student loan repayment. Trump proposed an income-based repayment plan that would cap the repayment amount at 12.5 percent of a graduate’s income. After 15 years, a graduate’s debt would be eliminated. Clinton also endorsed an income-based repayment plan that builds off the federal government’s current plan.

Details regarding President-Elect Trump’s approach to higher education will continue to emerge in the coming weeks and months. Regardless, given the level of economic anxiety we witnessed during the campaign season, it is now more clear than ever that we must continue to work for higher education equity, access, completion and strong pathways to good jobs. We must use research (and facts) to show how responsible innovation, student academic and financial support, and a continued focus on careers can be an engine for growth and national prosperity.