Higher Education

If the anger that propelled Trump’s win is economic, can higher education fix it?

People without degrees—who largely voted for Trump—were left behind by the recovery

Carol Minor (C) along with other supporters of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump cheer during the election night event at the New York Hilton Midtown on November 8, 2016 in New York City.

CHICAGO — If, in fact, much of the anger that helped boost Donald Trump to his victory in the presidential election is economic, higher education may be vital to reversing it.

That’s because more than 95 percent of jobs created during the country’s economic recovery have gone to workers with some college education, according to Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce.

For less-educated workers—who exit polls suggest supported Trump in overwhelming numbers—the recovery “has been virtually nonexistent,” the center found.

The election shows “the gulf between the haves and have-nots is real and it is getting wider and it is brimming with fear and anger and resentment,” Daniel Greenstein, director of postsecondary success at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, told a conference here of the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning a few hours after Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton conceded the presidential race to Trump.

That has occurred even as “the bridge to opportunity that is or should be U.S. higher education has become narrower,” Greenstein said. “It’s harder to navigate. The toll for too many is far too high.”

Unless attention continues to be paid to fixing those problems, he said, they “will leave our economy seriously short of what our economy needs to compete. … Higher education is something that will contribute to the nation’s success or lack of success.”

Trump, who famously exclaimed on the campaign trail, “I love the poorly educated,” won among whites who did not go to college by about 40 percentage points, according to exit polls. In the last presidential election, Republican Mitt Romney won 61 percent of votes from whites without university educations, compared to 36 percent who voted for Obama, or a difference of 25 percentage points.

Greenstein said he sees possibilities for bipartisan cooperation and progress for higher education under Trump and in a Republican-controlled Congress in areas such as simplifying the form required for students to apply for financial aid. (The Gates foundation is one of the many supporters of The Hechinger Report.)

Trump gave only a few clues during his campaign about his likely higher-education policies. He has spoken out against regulation, saying it increases costs for students. (Trump cited a debunked report that government red tape cost Vanderbilt University $150 million a year.)

That could portend a reversal of the Obama administration’s push for more transparency and accountability from colleges and universities that collectively receive nearly $200 billion a year in taxpayer money in the form of financial aid and research and development funding.

But Trump has also criticized colleges and universities with large endowments for not using more of their own money to ease their costs for students, hinting that he might eliminate their tax-exempt status unless that changes.

He has also spoken about shrinking or eliminating the U.S. Department of Education, which oversees such things as the civil rights and Title IX gender equity rules. And he has backed new programs expanded during the Obama years that tie student loan repayment amounts to income; Trump has said that he’d cap monthly payments at 12.5 percent of earnings and forgive any remaining debt after 15 years.

Republicans, who in the election maintained their majorities in both houses of Congress, also have pushed back against many of Obama’s higher-education plans. They include Senator Lamar Alexander, a former president of the University of Tennessee who has been particularly focused on reducing higher-education regulation.

This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Read more about higher education.

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Jon Marcus

Jon Marcus, higher-education editor, has written about higher education for the Washington Post, USA Today, Time, the Boston Globe, Washington Monthly, is North America higher-education… See Archive

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