Presidential election has implications in higher education

Sean Cleary, Copy editor

With a long campaign nearing its conclusion, UND students will have the chance to vote on Nov. 8 to elect the next president of the United States.

In a campaign that has grown increasingly contentious between the Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, policy differences have not usually been at the forefront of the discourse. This is especially true for the area of higher education, which was mentioned only in passing during the presidential debates.

This lack of attention from the candidates could reflect voter’s own priorities; in a poll from the Pew Research Center conducted this July, registered voters indicated education was eighth on the list of priority issues, behind topics like the economy, healthcare and immigration. There was a noticeable gap between Clinton and Trump supporters on the importance of education; 73 percent of Clinton supporters listed the issue as “very important” compared to 58 percent of Trump supporters.

While many policy level decisions in higher education are made at the state and institutional levels, the next President of the United States will have influence over many important facets of higher education policy, including federal student loan programs, Pell Grant and research funding and various forms of regulations and standards from the Department of Education.

This article will examine some the ideas included in each of the major presidential candidates’ higher education platforms.


Clinton refers to her plans for higher education as the “New College Compact.” One of the most notable of her proposals is her call to eliminate tuition at public universities for students from families with incomes less than $85,000 a year; this threshold would rise to $125,000 by 2021. The compact also includes President Obama’s plan to make community colleges free for students.

Many observers saw Clinton’s announcement to eliminate tuition as part of leftward shift following the Democratic primary with Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who advocated for free tuition for every student at a public university.

Critics of the Clinton’s plan have noted that making tuition free for students at public universities would do little to incentivize the universities to keep tuition prices down, citing a a 2015 study published by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York found that colleges pocketed up to 60 cents from every $1 increase in subsidies, essentially shifting the costs to the federal government.

Also included in Clinton’s compact is a proposal that would allow those with federal student loans to refinance them at a lower rate. This idea is very similar to legislation proposed by Democrats in the past. Under Clinton’s plan, interest rates on federal loans would be approximately half the amount, and students would be able to utilize a federal program to refinance private loans.

Included in Clinton’s proposal are plans to increase scrutiny over for-profit colleges and expand when and how Pell Grants, which give financial support to low-income students, can be spent.

Clinton’s proposals would cost approximately $500 billion over ten years. She said that this cost would be covered by “closing tax loopholes and expenditures for the most fortunate.”


While Trump has not detailed his future plans for higher education nearly as thoroughly and explicitly as Clinton, there have been several moments on the campaign that have provided a glimpse into what his priorities would be if elected.

In a speech earlier this month, Trump expressed concerns over rising student debt and said he supports income-based repayment plans for student loans. Specifically, he endorsed the idea of capping student loan payment at 12 1/2 percent of graduates’ incomes and forgiving all remaining debt after 15 years.

There is a federal program that already exists which functions in the same way, although it caps payments at 10 percent and forgives the remaining balance after 20 years. Clinton proposed a version of this plan as well.

Trump also said that he would pressure universities to use their endowments to keep tuition low; if universities did not keep tuition at a yet undetermined amount, Trump said he would threaten to end the tax-exempt status of the endowments.

Additionally, Trump also pointed to study from Vanderbilt which concluded that federal regulations cost universities nearly $150 million a year for the university, which amounts to nearly $11,000 per student, although, according to an article on the website Inside Higher Ed, much of this money was due to research-related compliance and had little to do with the cost of tuition.

A Trump surrogate in an interview with Inside Higher Ed this spring indicated Trump would push back against Hillary’s proposal for debt-free college, citing budget concerns.

Given the lack of specificity in Trump’s proposals, it is difficult to estimate the cost of his ideas if they were enacted.

Sean Cleary is a copy editor for The Dakota Student. He can be reached at [email protected]