Trump DeVos

Even seemingly unrelated decisions like travel bans can have an effect. Here’s what Trump’s first few months on the job portend for colleges and universities.


Trump’s Impact on Higher Education in the First 100 Days

  • Chris Suda
  • 4/28/2017

Seasoned higher education leaders know that election cycles generate a myriad of proposed legislative and policy changes, only some of which ultimately materialize. By a president’s first 100 days in office, however, we can usually gauge the administration’s higher education priorities and project the impact of the executive agenda on the industry.

President Trump’s first 100 days at the helm suggest that higher education leaders have their hands full. Many in the academic community are intensely concerned that his executive orders, cabinet appointments, and proposed budget cuts and legislative priorities threaten international enrollment and employment, grant programs, administrative spending, and research funding.

Higher education leaders cannot afford to get caught up in the daily media spotlights and Twitterstorms; they must deal with the facts as presented within regulations and laws as finally enacted. Here’s what has transpired in Trump’s first 100 days that are already affecting or may impact higher education.

Executive orders

Travel ban and refugee program suspension (January and March 2017)

International students often pay the entirety of their tuition costs, so a reduction in students from abroad by regulation will have a direct impact on institutions’ revenues and budgets. Many colleges and universities hire professors from other countries, as well, and disruption of their travel into the United States could affect staffing and course instruction and scheduling. President Trump’s executive order imposing a 120-day suspension of the refugee program and a 90-day ban on travel to the United States for citizens of seven countries with known terrorist ties had these and other wide-ranging effects on academic institutions. The Chronicle of Higher Education reported students were stranded abroad and professors were detained upon arriving in America. Prospective international Ph.D. students from those countries may have had to reconsider their doctorate program plans, which would also potentially impact revenue and staffing at colleges and universities — and perhaps sideline the academic dreams and careers of those wishing to study here.

A revised version of this executive order (March) provided some assurances to students and professors, allowing those with current visas to continue to travel freely but still caused upheaval and confusion in the midst of admission season. Amid the uncertainty, it’s likely that many prospective students have decided to forego the risks and enroll elsewhere.

Relocating HBCU supervision to the White House (February 2017)

Trump’s executive order pledged to further excellence and innovation at historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs). Every president since Jimmy Carter has issued an order of support to HBCUs, but Trump’s also reassigned its oversight from the Department of Education directly to the White House at the request of HBCU presidents. This move suggests that HBCUs will have a direct line to Trump and his administrators, which could lead to better communication and more progress in the issues affecting HBCU students, such as changes in the credit standards for Pell grants and Parent PLUS loans. (The last administration’s changes to credit standards resulted in the loss of funding and subsequent dropout for thousands of HBCU students.) Some in the industry are skeptical because HBCU presidents also asked for but did not receive more federal funding for their institutions, at least as outlined in the order.

“Buy American, Hire American” (April 2017)

This executive order targets fraud and abuse in guest-worker programs and increases federal oversight of the H-1B visa program, making it harder for companies to hire foreign workers who do the same work as U.S. workers for less money. The Chronicle reports higher education ranks as the third-largest industry sponsor of visa recipients. Though it appears to have little effect on institutions’ payrolls, it could be a factor in driving down international enrollment; many students choose to study in the United States because it often leads to a U.S. job after graduation. With pathways to employment removed or blocked, some students may decide to study in their home countries or at other global institutions and pursue employment abroad.

Secretary of Education appointment

The confirmation of Betsy DeVos as U.S. Secretary of Education has been met with criticism by many in academia who regard her as inexperienced and in possession of views and plans at odds with those traditionally held in the industry. A champion of charter schools, public school vouchers, teacher accountability, and a reduced federal bureaucracy, DeVos could very well create tougher circumstances for Common Core, roll back regulations aimed at for-profit colleges, and increase in private sector student financial aid.

Budget cuts

In March, President Trump released a budget “blueprint” for the 2018 fiscal year, calling for $9 billion (more than 13 percent) in cuts to the Department of Education. The budget decreases funding at several agencies that provide support for education initiatives, such as the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation. The administration also outlined a plan to eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Proposed education cuts include programs aiding primarily low-income and minority students, while increasing spending for school-choice programs in elementary and secondary education. Highlights of the proposed budget include:

  • Cancelling $3.9 billion in carryover Pell funding
  • Cutting $200 million for federal programs that assist disadvantaged students, including TRIO, which supports the progress of low-income, first-generation, and disabled students starting in middle school
  • Reducing by 32 percent the competitive grant program, Gear Up, which provides six to seven years of support for tutoring, mentoring, scholarships, and other services to low-income students, and provides counselors to help parents understand the benefits of college and how to apply for financial aid
  • Cuts in federal work-study programs and the elimination of the Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant, a federal grant for low-income students
  • Deep cuts in research spending, including budget reductions to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) of $5.8 billion (18 percent) and a major reorganization of the NIH’s institutes and centers
  • Entirely eliminating a range of federal environmental and climate programs, including the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy
  • A 9.8 percent cut in the budgets of all agencies not listed individually, including the National Science Foundation

Repeal of the Affordable Care Act

President Trump has vowed to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA, or Obamacare). The proposed replacement legislation — the American Health Care Act — was derided by president and CEO of the Association of American Medical Colleges, saying that university teaching hospitals would be forced to absorb the costs of patient care for many who seek treatment at their facilities.

Many colleges and universities could find relief from the costs of ACA compliance if the law is repealed, though their adjunct professors would likely lose the health insurance plans as institutions revert to their prior non-coverage of these part-time, non-faculty positions.

As you can see from the outline of President Trump’s first few months in office, there are many issues of concern for institutional decision makers. Though it is unlikely that the budget would be enacted as proposed, it’s clear that this administration wants to reduce higher education spending and curtail many federally funded programs that your school likely participates in and draws revenue from.

How we can help

It’s difficult to say how the Trump Administration’s proposed policies and budget plans will actually materialize. However, in the words of one of our Founding Fathers, Benjamin Franklin, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” CLA’s higher education professionals can assist you with identifying the impact of legislative and regulatory fallout on your institution and help you prepare and adjust. We can work closely with you to build a plan to address your concerns and assist with strategic financial and scenario planning; board presentations and facilitation; departmental restructuring through outsourcing, co-sourcing, and recruitment; succession planning; and updating policies and procedures required or necessitated by new regulations and legislation.

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