The Trump administration has no significant plan or strategy related to higher education. The only major policy declarations -- to eliminate federal regulations on for-profit colleges and revisit federal guidelines on sexual assault on college campuses – both unravel policies developed under the Obama administration. Where the fate of higher education lies is in the innumerable initiatives bent on pleasing Trump’s base and in the search for some sort of major legislative victory. As of this writing, this now includes a Republican coalition that wants to cut the funding for most federal agencies to ease the way for massive tax cuts. In the Trump administration’s initial federal budget proposal presented last May, Trump planned huge reductions in federal programs, with two glaring exceptions: boosting military spending -- including for veterans but also for hardware and more troops -- and funding for a continent stretching border wall with Mexico. What about the funding future, and health and well-being, of America’s great universities? To make financial room, and to placate some on the right, it is hard to imagine increased or even stable federal spending for research and financial aid. To partially offset tax cuts, spending must come down, at least in a rationale policy world. If this scenario plays out, higher education will be one of many casualties. Then again, confusion regarding the Trump agenda, discord among Republicans, lobbying by the many stakeholders of the current tax system, and even independent analysis of whatever convoluted plan emerges, could derail or significantly alter the tax-cut momentum. Or the thirst for a legislative tax-cut victory might simply temporarily blind Republican deficit hawks. In these scenarios, or a combination, federal funding for academic research and financial aid might only suffer minor cuts, or remain relatively stable – in the short run. For now, muddling through might not be good policymaking, but could be the best one can hope for. For American higher education in the volatile Trump era, disaster averted?
October 24, 2017
Research and Occasional Papers Series (ROPS)