When they flock to the polls on Tuesday, most Yale students will cast their ballots without substantial consideration to how the presidencies of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton LAW ’73 or Republican candidate Donald Trump might shape the future of American higher education. After all, the run-up to the 2016 election has attracted media attention more for sexual innuendos and ad hominem attacks than for concrete policy discussions. Amid debates over Clinton’s private email server and Trump’s border wall proposal, the two candidates’ plans for American higher education have gone largely unaddressed.
Still, just as on almost every other issue, Clinton and Trump have starkly divergent views on higher education, from the student loan crisis to the campus sexual assault.
Here, the News breaks down how Clinton and Trump differ on the major challenges facing American universities.
PUBLIC HIGHER EDUCATION IN CRISIS
Yale’s $25.4 billion endowment makes it the second-best financially endowed university in the United States. But Yale’s financial success — including a 3.4 percent return on that endowment in the most recent fiscal year, better than any other Ivy League school — by no means reflects the financial state of most U.S. colleges and universities.
Since the 2008 recession, many of the United States’ most prestigious public institutions have had to cope with drastic cuts in funding. In total, after adjusting for inflation, funding for public two- and four-year colleges has dropped nearly $10 billion over the last eight years, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Twenty-six states have cut funding for public colleges by more than 20 percent per student over the same period. Public universities in Illinois and Arizona have seen funding per student go down by more than half.
“A really forward-thinking president would offer all kinds of support for college students to get the best education they can, because that’s just an investment in the future of this country,” said Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway. “If the president can inspire these state legislators to return funding to these institutions, that would be great. It’s tricky, but the president has a bully pulpit, and legislatures really need to look in their own mirror about the way they’ve funded higher education.”
For history professor David Blight, the financial plight of American public education feels especially personal. Blight, a Civil War scholar who teaches one of Yale’s most popular lecture courses, was educated entirely at public universities, earning his undergraduate degree at Michigan State University and his Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
“Without public universities, I wouldn’t have an education, I wouldn’t be here, so we have to care about that, and we have to have a new way of doing this,” said Blight. Vermont senator Bernie Sanders made higher education one of the centerpieces of his campaign for the Democratic nomination, promising free tuition at all public colleges and universities. Although he ultimately lost the nomination to Clinton, Sanders dominated the youth vote throughout the primary.
Clinton, a graduate of Wellesley College, has since adopted parts of Sanders’ popular higher education platform. In her 10-year “New College Compact” plan to make higher education affordable, Clinton promises that half the project’s $350 billion budget will go toward grants to states and colleges designed to make four-year public universities more affordable, according to the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators.
“It’s one of the most expansive, revolutionary plans in recent decades to expand opportunity and education more broadly,” said Will McGrew ’18, president of Yale Students for Hillary. “The New College Compact would make public universities free for a large swath of students below a certain [income level].”
CLINTON, TRUMP ON PAYING FOR COLLEGE
Clinton has also pledged to protect federal Pell Grant funding for low- and middle-income students and has proposed to restore year-round Pell Grant funding for students who wish to take classes in the summer. In addition to major Yale initiatives such as the $285 million Access Yale fundraising campaign for financial aid, federal funding also helps subsidize the cost of attending Yale for many accepted students.
The most recently available federal data indicates that 724 Yale undergraduates received a cumulative total of about $3 million in Pell Grants in the 2014–15 academic year. University Vice President for Development Joan O’Neill said Yale takes care to remain cognizant of the public funds that can help subsidize the cost of a Yale education while raising money for financial aid.
Still, when it comes to the skyrocketing cost of a college education, much of the damage has already been done. Data compiled by higher education expert Mark Kantrowitz indicates that in 2016, college graduates finished their degrees with an average of $37,122 in student loan debt, a 6 percent increase from the year before. In total, Americans owe $1.3 trillion in student loan debt, spread across 44 million borrowers nationwide, according to data published by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
Clinton’s New College Compact promises to address those alarming statistics by significantly cutting the interest rate on student loans, allowing borrowers to refinance their loans at the current interest rate, and forgiving student loan debt after 20 years.
But in interviews with the News, experts noted the challenge of translating such campaign promises into policy actions.
“Clinton’s plans look extremely unlikely to become law in their current form,” said Robert Kelchen, a professor of higher education policy who compiles the Washington Monthly magazine’s annual college rankings. “Democrats look unlikely to get the 60 Senate votes that they need to override a Republican filibuster.”
Kelchen added that he expects Clinton to bypass Congress when attempting to address college affordability. Instead, he said, Clinton will likely follow the course taken by President Barack Obama over the past eight years and pass new policies through executive orders or through the rule-making capacity of the Department of Education.
According to Charlie Eaton, a researcher at Stanford University studying the role of finance, Trump has not provided much information about his plans to address college affordability.
Over the course of his campaign, Trump has made relatively few public pronouncements about college affordability. Instead, he has had to fend off sustained criticism for his management of Trump University, a now-defunct real-estate training program that is currently the subject of two class-action lawsuits brought by former students who say they were defrauded.
“Trump does not have a clear policy agenda for this,” Eaton said. “Just on the basis of his policy ideas, we do not really know what a Trump presidency would look like for college affordability.”
In his few public remarks, Trump has called on universities with large endowments to spend more on students to reduce tuition costs. According to his campaign co-chair Sam Clovis — who described the candidate’s views on college costs and student loans in a May article in Inside Higher Education — Trump would fight Clinton’s proposal for debt-free higher education on the grounds that it would be impossible for the government to pay for.
In the same article, Clovis told Inside Higher Education that Trump would also seek to restore the role of banks in lending to students, removing the federal government from the equation entirely.
Kelchen noted that the most thorough plan Trump has outlined is a commitment to simplify income-based repayment plans for student loans. He added that the lack of details — how it will be funded, for instance — makes it difficult to compare it to other strategies to make college more affordable.
During an Oct. 13 campaign event in Columbus, Ohio, Trump proposed what Washington Post education reporter Danielle Douglas-Gabriel characterized as the “most liberal student loan repayment plan since the inception of the federal financial aid program.” In a C-SPAN video of the event, Trump calls for capping repayments at 12.5 percent of the borrower’s income and forgiving all outstanding debt after 15 years of repayments, five years earlier than Clinton’s proposed timeline.
Trump did, however, add a significant caveat, noting that his plan was yet to be finalized.
“It’ll be a negotiation — you know that, everything is a negotiation,” Trump told the crowd. “We’re going to work it out big-league.”
CURBING CAMPUS SEXUAL ASSAULT
In recent years, sexual misconduct has become one of the most pressing issues on American college campuses, the subject of countless magazine articles and documentary films. And while sexual misconduct is a serious problem at colleges across the United States, at Yale the numbers are especially high. A 2015 survey by the Association of American Universities showed that more than half of all Yale students have experienced some form of sexual harassment on campus.
On her campaign website, Clinton has outlined a three-step plan to end sexual assault on college campuses: provide comprehensive support to survivors, such as counseling and health care; ensure a fair process for all through transparent judicial proceedings; and increase prevention efforts by educating high school students about sexual misconduct.
Helen Price ’18, co-president of United Against Sexual Assault Yale, said that although aspects of Clinton’s strategy are “vague,” the plan to implement education programs for high school students — including the types of bystander intervention programs and consent training that are mandatory for Yale freshmen and sophomores — would represent an important step forward.
Trump has not formally announced any policy proposals for combatting sexual assault on campus. In interviews with the News, Yale students and faculty said Trump’s track record of alleged sexual harassment and misogynistic comments make him unfit to address the problem.
Last month, after the release of a 2005 Access Hollywood tape in which Trump can be heard making lewd comments, more than a dozen women came forward to accuse the candidate of sexual harassment. After an initial apology, Trump dismissed the Access Hollywood tape as “locker-room talk” and denied all the allegations against him.
Holloway told the News that Trump’s comments about women and his record of alleged sexual misconduct have made him “deeply concerned about how [the candidate] would lead on this issue.”
Price said a Trump presidency would be “disastrous” for the sexual climate not only on college campuses, but also across the country. She added that if Trump becomes president, she fears he would seek to revive the Safe Campus Act, legislation proposed by a team of Republican congressmen in 2015 that would prevent colleges from investigating sexual assault allegations unless the victim also reports the case to law enforcement. The legislation, which never came to a vote, is widely opposed by anti-rape advocacy groups.
Despite the Trump campaign’s silence on the specific issue of campus sexual assault, Trump supporter Karl Notturno ’17 said Trump’s emphasis on “law and order” is a strong indication of how his administration would address the problem.
“We have a very weird extra-judicial system for dealing with sexual assault on campus. It would probably be a lot better to have most of these cases go through the criminal justice system,” Notturno said. “I see Trump talking a lot about reinvigorating our police and legal system, and calling for law and order, and for the most part, most sexual assault on campus would be covered by that.”
But Holloway cautioned against jumping to conclusions about how Trump or Clinton would approach higher education in the White House — whatever one thinks about the candidates’ behavior on the campaign trail. He noted that campaign promises are often fundamentally different from governing priorities.
“What they are now is candidates,” Holloway said. “I’m going to reserve judgment on their ideas until one of them becomes president.”