Wednesday, November 9, 2016

College Access under President Trump

By:  Patrick O'Connor  Ph.D

It really should come as no surprise that the results of a presidential election lead to change.  Just like the start of a new school year, or getting a new principal, change requires us to focus on what we do and how we do it in a brand new way, if only because new people are involved in the processes we’ve  known and loved for years.

New faces might have been the only change some were expecting to deal with once the Electoral College had released its latest test scores, but with all the media calling this week’s results  “shocking”, it’s safe to conclude we’re in for more than just new faces in new places, implementing the same federal policies about college access.  It’s early to say what will happen to college opportunities under President Trump, but based on some of his campaign remarks, here are some possibilities we may need to consider:

Changes in financial aid  Many blogs and tweet sites have been abuzz with the notion that federal financial aid is going to become less available, both in the amount the federal government offers, and the number of students who receive it.  It’s uncertain where this claim comes from; part of it may be President-elect Trump’s assertion that government needs to change, and part of it may be the idea that education has long been the responsibility of the state, and a Trump administration will take financial aid and return it to those federalism roots.

Another possible change that’s been mentioned is the idea of increasing the role of banks in providing financial aid.  Cost-cutting efforts to eliminate the middleman in financial aid have generally been welcomed, but there are some who feel the federal government is holding colleges hostage with threats of cutting off student financial aid unless the college meets certain benchmarks, many related to student performance, and many, in the eyes of some, extremely unrealistic.

Privatizing federal financial aid may open more avenues for needy students to pursue, as would the loosening of restrictions on for-profit institutions, something that’s also been bantered about.  Either way, more changes to paying for college are in store than just this year’s switch to the FAFSA filing deadline.

DREAMers and College   Observers also believe a Trump administration will do little to expand college opportunities for undocumented students, with some believing the next president will institute changes that will make postsecondary access more restrictive for these students.  This would be in line with Candidate Trump’s insistence that immigration reform is badly needed in the United States, even though his specific plans for that reform have changed greatly since the promise to build a wall on the Mexican border. 

President-elect Trump’s policy on immigration in general may do even more to discourage undocumented students from seeking education of any kind, even at the K-12 level.  The GOP candidate has discussed deportation programs for undocumented individuals as part of a general priority of the administration.  If that’s the case, some families may make the decision to keep their children home from school, for fear of being discovered.

Common Core  One educational priority of the new administration that’s unlikely to affect college opportunity is the suspension of Common Core as a curriculum in schools.  Since the decision to use Common Core has always been made at the state level, the Trump administration would likely have to use federal mandates to restrict its use—a tactic that would give more power to the federal government, not less.  Look for this area as one that will require the new president to clarify his priorities.

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