Following the election of Donald Trump and the appointment of the new Secretary of Education, the higher education community is on the lookout for possible changes in college tuition costs and campus sexual assault policies.
On his campaign trail, Trump provided little details about his policy plans for higher education. Even with the recent appointment of Betsy DeVos — who is known for her advocacy for the privatization of K–12 education — as the Secretary of Education, the public is still uncertain about what policies may be imposed due to DeVos’ lack of professional experience in higher education. Yale students and faculty interviewed expressed concerns about potential impacts of Trump’s higher education policies, including federal funding for financial aid and handling of sexual assault cases on campus.
“As with many of Trump’s platforms, his statements on higher education, particularly as they concern student loans, have been confusing,” said Muriel Wang ’20.
Currently, universities across the nation are struggling with lack of federal funding. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, funding for public two- and four-year colleges has dropped nearly $10 billion over the last eight years. In an interview with the News earlier this month, Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway emphasized the importance of federal support for colleges.
“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,” Holloway said.
In an October speech on his campaign trail, Trump mentioned an income-based repayment plan, which some media described as more liberal and drastic than Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s LAW ’73 proposal that had a longer loan repayment timeline.
However, Trump did not provide any cost projections for this program.
Director of Education Studies Elizabeth Carroll said she is concerned about whether the Trump administration would continue the current federal aid program. Although Yale has been working to expand education access to low income students, Carroll said there’s been recognition that the existing aid programs are insufficient. And if Trump cuts back on the existing aid programs, she added, universities would have to compensate for the lower levels of funding themselves, which might lead to fewer opportunities for students in need of financial support.
Taking into account the appointment of DeVos, Carroll said following through the voucher programs and other plans DeVos has advocated for in the past may result in reallocation of resources from higher education to K–12.
“That would have swift negative consequences for students at Yale and even more so at institutions that serve even higher proportions of low income students.”
Carroll, however, emphasized that although this scenario is quite alarming, it is hypothetical, so no definitive conclusions can be drawn at this point.
History professor David Blight shared similar concerns.
“It’s possible that given Trump’s views on higher learning that some of the resources directed towards universities could be in danger.” Blight said. He also criticized the appointment of DeVos, because her “kind of education that is only for the best and brightest, for those who can pay.”
Five Yalies interviewed expressed skepticism toward Trump’s student loan repayment plan.
Maxwell Ulin ’17, president of Yale College Democrats, said because of Trump’s lack of political background and interest in higher education policies, he will likely “take the advice of typical conservative republicans who will oppose the few liberal ideas he has.” Ulin added that he does not think any of the proposals that are not in line with the Republican agenda will move forward.
Students were more concerned about what President-elect Trump may do with regard to sexual assault on campus.
“It’s unclear where he stands on the issues of sexual assault and certainly his record of sexual assault has been beyond concerning,” Ulin said.
At present, Title IX, a federal law that guarantees gender equality in education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance, is the primary piece of legislation addressing sexual assaults on college campuses and requires universities to have a procedure to handle allegations of harassment and assault.
“You really can’t understate the impact of Title IX and how it has been interpreted by the Department of Education under the current administration. It’s had an astonishing impact on how we deal with campus sexual assault.” Helen Price ’18, co-director of United Against Sexual Assault Yale, said. With Trump in power, Price said she is concerned with how he may weaken the Department of Education and office of civil rights which has done much work to enforce campus legislation.
Price added that there is a potential for the Trump administration to pass 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.
“It would set us back 30 years about how campus sexual assault is handled,” Price said. “I fully expect the act or something similar to come up and that is very concerning.”
Still, some believe the Trump presidency may bring good news to higher education. In a previous interview with the News, 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 of campus sexual assaults.
“It would probably be a lot better to have most of these [campus sexual assault] cases go through the criminal justice system,” Notturno said.
Trump will be inaugurated as the 45th president of the United States on January 20, 2017.