Donald Trump and the Future of Higher Education

Colleges and universities are always in various states of growth, transition, and uncertainty. Support from political leaders (and the people they theoretically represent) in the form of either tangible monetary support or positive rhetoric always ebbs and flows.

Post-secondary institutions of learning enshrine creativity and thinking and are led by very highly-educated people – people with more formal, credentialed education than at least 95% of the population in the United States—and provide the training and learning and research society depends on. As a result, that they would be looked at with more than curious, suspicious eyes at times is only to be expected and, alas, is nothing new.

Upon hearing Donald Trump’s “I love the poorly educated” comment a few mornings ago, I have been wondering what the entire P-16 (and beyond) system would look like but especially undergraduate education if he had all of his wishes. Survey after survey and study after study indicate that those with at least some kind of certificate, two-year, or four-year degree earn substantially more over a lifetime of working and that such credentials are increasingly required.

So much is so thoroughly unusual and unknown about Trump’s campaign specifically and the entire 2016 political arena generally that predications are difficult to come by and existing commentaries are difficult to assess.

But, I do not anticipate a renaissance period whereby those in the liberal arts, social sciences, and natural sciences would be celebrated and welcomed. To put it mildly. Although, every professor I know would love such a renaissance to occur, as we love learning and helping others learn.

Cb9nnSEWEAAWm-UAnd “love the poorly educated”: what does this actually mean? Is this meant as an insult to those without a great deal of formal education? an insult to those who buy into his words and related excitement? as an insult to those with some kind of learning differences or mental disabilities? as an insult to educators? as a reference to himself? Such sentiments certainly neither express excitement about learning, nor eagerness to have a society full of people who are all highly educated.

As as often been said, Trump has offended basically e-v-e-r-y-b-o-d-y. Trump is essentially an unknown. Given Trump’s lack of political experience, a possible Trump presidency could especially be one where nothing really happens. And it is important to debunk the notion of the “imperial presidency.” In contrast to such notions, the president does not have full control over everything that happens in his/her tenure.

13047bd42ab65fd966615b11822df6553192b5eaab32c88a3f781348c2394d71_1Trump has called for en masse deportation of immigrants, massive cuts in governmental spending, and for the Department of Education to be cut “way, way, way down.” Trump also uses rhetoric many find appealing (and seemingly, promising) about “making American great again” and bringing back the “American Dream.” Theoretically, this would include a renewed emphasis on higher education from the Executive Branch of the United States, unlike what we’ve seen in many, many decades, but we don’t know. His attack on immigrants—harbingers who bring diversity, ideas, and other prerequisites absolutely necessary for “making American great again” and brining back the “American Dream,” as documented historically—suggests such emphasis on higher education is not part of his plan. And such statements ignore how “great” and privileged the United States and its people are and assume the American Dream actually fully existed at one point. Even with its areas for improvement, the United States has very good colleges.

The only thing I think we know for certain on these issues is what he has done. Trump is currently due in court over various questionable practices related to his “Trump University,” now known as The Trump Entrepreneur Initiative. It is unclear if this “school” is still in operation or not. His other business practices have also resulted in much attention due to questionable practices and ultimate failure. 

As with Bernie Sanders’s popularity, as others have also said, Trump’s popularity is living, breathing, walking evidence that We the People are beyond frustrated with the current political systems. The next several months will determine a great deal. The political revolution is just beginning with outcomes unknown. And we need to be very, very concerned about consequences for higher ed. 

Andrew Joseph Pegoda

ps-Please also see this important statement from a UH professor about the latest debate that in part reads: 

The trouble is: my students were not excited. They were terrified. Two of my students wear hijab. They were terrified of being on campus, terrified of Trump supporters, terrified of Trump, terrified of being shot. These fears are real, and realistic. Trump has spoken approvingly of Muslims being shot with bullets dipped in pigs blood.