Donald Trump with his fists up in front of a microphone

With Trump stunning the world into victory on Wednesday, we look briefly at what his presidency might mean for US education. 

Primarily, what happens education-wise under Trump’s administration is unclear - he only devoted a significant portion of a speech to high education in mid-October, and in this talk he said he worried about graduates facing high student debt levels and endorsed income-based repayment systems (something generally backed by Democrats and Republicans alike).

Higher education

An analysis of polling data by the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University found that young voters, those aged 18-29, backed Clinton over Trump. In this year's U.S. election, the analysis found, Clinton won 55% of the young adult vote, compared to 37% for Trump, however these percentages vary among the races. Furthermore, statements from academic administrators (who typically try to avoid even the appearance of endorsing a candidate) calling for the next president (candidates were not named) to support diversity, diplomacy and an international outlook for the United States, have generally been seen as backing Clinton over Trump. So it’s interesting to see how they will fair in this Trump society:

Student loans

Trump has said that he wants to make university more affordable by capping student-loan repayments and moving the government out of lending, and restoring that role to banks. He has endorsed income-based loan repayment, and has said that students should "not be asked to pay more on loans than they can afford", suggesting that loans be based on graduates' incomes, and repayment should be capped at 12.5% of borrowers' income.

Tuition fees

Trump has vowed to force universities to cut their tuition fees."If the federal government is going to subsidise student loans, it has a right to expect that colleges work hard to control costs and invest their resources in their students," Trump said in his October speech. He also mentioned that he would like to end tax-exempt status for institutions that fail to use large endowments to reduce the cost of tuition. He said that universities need "to spend endowments on their students, not themselves …. They need to use that money to cut the college debt and cut tuition, and they have to do it quickly.”

However, university leaders have claimed that large shares of their college endowments are restricted in their use, and that many of the universities with the most generous financial aid policies are already those with the largest endowments.

He also referenced the "tremendous bloat" within the US higher education sector, suggesting that he believes there are significant administration savings to be made by universities, and noted that the compliance of federal regulations often cost a university a lot of money, and that he would work to roll back regulations that lead colleges to spend in that way.

Vetting of students

As we all know, Trump has consistently called for making it more difficult for non-citizens to enter the US, and this would include those attending university. This may mean that these students looking for a Western-style education choose to attend universities in Canada, Australia or other countries seen as less hostile. 

Free speech

Many universities have also debated the free speech issues that have come up during the Trump campaign, with Trump suggesting that universities are too concerned with being "politically correct."

Scrabble letters spelling out the word SAVE on top of one dollar bills

Trump's policies could save uni students money. Image credit:

School Education

Parental Choice

One area where the Trump administration could make changes is in expanding the use of vouchers that would let students use federal money to attend the schools of their choice, be they charters, private or parochial schools, magnet programs, or traditional public schools.

Community in schools

A Trump administration could seek to promote entrepreneurship and create problem-solving in education, by serving as a “partner, not so much as a dictator” with school districts and states. However, this approach might remove the current safety net for vulnerable low-income students and children of colour.

Common Core

As president, Trump will not have the legal authority to make good on one of his campaign promises: getting rid of the Common Core State Standards, the academic standards that are deeply unpopular with both Democratic and Republican voters alike. Unfortunately, Federal law forbids the federal government from interfering with states’ decisions about academic standards.