Donald Trump’s War on Education
By John K. Wilson
Donald Trump’s presidency could, if he chooses, be the most consequential one for higher education in a half-century, and the most destructive in history for colleges.
In his “Contract with the American Voter,” Trump announced a war on public education that would radically shift federal policy. Trump plans to decimate federal funding to public schools, and instead fund religious schools and even pay parents who refuse to send their kids to school. Here is Trump’s “School Choice And Education Opportunity Act”:
“Redirects education dollars to gives [sic] parents the right to send their kid to the public, private, charter, magnet, religious or home school of their choice. Ends common core, brings education supervision to local communities. It expands vocational and technical education, and make [sic] 2 and 4-year college more affordable.”
It says something about Trump’s commitment to education that his one-paragraph legislative proposal on education included two spelling errors and a run-on sentence, and nobody has corrected it in the month since it was released. It’s even more alarming that Trump plans to pay parents if they refuse to send their kids to school.
David Horowitz has taken credit for convincing his friend (and top Trump adviser) Steve Bannon to convince Trump to offer a $130 billion school choice plan. If Horowitz has strong influence in a Trump presidency, he might be able to get his Academic Bill of Rights imposed on colleges, and his recent efforts to have Students for Justice in Palestine banned from campuses.
Higher education is likely to suffer badly under President Trump. Trump has gone after colleges for high tuition rates, ignoring the role of declining government support: “If colleges refuse to take this responsibility seriously, they will be held accountable.”
It’s particularly ironic that the man who used his Trump Foundation to buy two paintings of himself and a Tim Tebow-signed helmet, settle a lawsuit against his company, and bribe the Florida Secretary of State when she was considering joining the lawsuit against Trump University, would then declare that nonprofits need “to spend endowments on their students, not themselves.”
Trump threatened to revoke the tax-exempt status of universities unless they “use that money to cut the college debt and cut tuition, and they have to do it quickly.” If a private college cuts tuition rates but reduces financial aid for students, the result will be increased student debt for the poorest students. Imagine the outcry from Trump if a politician had threatened to ban the tax-exempt status of wealthy churches unless they spent more money to help the poor.
One potential threat to international students is Trump’s promise to expel illegal immigrants with criminal records and “cancel visas to foreign countries that won’t take them back.” All Mexican international students in the US could have their visas cancelled by President Trump in a dispute (such as his demands to be paid for his wall).
In addition to Trump’s announced policies, the power of the presidency could allow him to use the enormous authority of the executive branch to impose dramatic changes in campus policies around the country.
It’s easy to imagine a President Trump (who claims that a dozen women he says he never met and all of their corroborating witnesses have falsely accused him of sexual misconduct) ordering his Department of Education to force colleges to increase protections for men accused of sexual misconduct.
Trump also believes that white men are the victims of reverse discrimination due to affirmative action. He attacked Elizabeth Warren by claiming that she “has a career that is totally based on a lie.” It is shocking that Trump believes the entire career of minorities is due to affirmative action.
Trump as president would also pose a threat to scientific research. Trump has repeatedly called climate change a hoax. Would President Trump allow federal money to spent on something he thinks is a conspiracy to destroy America created by China?
Trump declared, “In the past few decades, political correctness – oh, what a terrible term – has transformed our institutions of higher education from ones that fostered spirited debate to a place of extreme censorship, where students are silenced for the smallest of things.” Trump announced, “We will end the political correctness and foster free and respectful dialogue.” Trump would probably transform the Education Department, and use the threat of federal funding to impose his will on colleges.
For-profit colleges will gain from President Trump, and close advisor Newt Gingrich is deeply linked with them. Trump University was a con that began as a delusion: until he turned his failed project into a real estate seminar scam, Trump actually believed that with a $3 million investment, he could create an online, practical education as an alternative to conventional colleges. Now Trump has the power of the federal government and billions of dollars to encourage for-profit diploma mills to replace colleges.
It’s no surprise that Trump is promising a war on political correctness and higher education. In the 2016 election exit polls, whites with a college degree favored Trump by only four points, while whites without a college degree supported Trump by a 39-point margin. That’s a 35-point education gap, the largest in recorded history.
Trump accurately perceives higher education as a political enemy, twisting (or “educating”) the minds of a generation of students to believe in equality, climate change, rational analysis, and all the other things that Trump opposes. In my book, Trump Unveiled, I detail how Trump has embraced a wide array of conspiracy theories. Higher education is an important antidote to irrational thinking, and therefore it is a likely be a target of Trump’s political revenge.