Trump offers biggest glimpse yet into his plans for higher ed

His income-based repayment proposal for student borrowers is somewhat unexpected

During a speech at a rally in Columbus, Ohio last week, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump said the most he has said to date about his plans for higher education.

Income-based student loan repayment

Trump proposed an income-based repayment plan for student loans, under which payments would be capped at 12.5% of a borrower's income and all outstanding debt would be forgiven after 15 years of consistent repayment. Trump's plan appears more generous than the Obama administration's income-based repayment plan, which generally caps repayments at 10% of a borrower's income and offers loan forgiveness after 20 years.

But Amy Laitinen, director of higher education at New America, says it is unclear whether Trump's income-based repayment proposal is progressive or regressive.  

"If...there were no income cap, then it would be super progressive, because everyone would pay a flat percentage," she says, but, "if it's like current [income-based repayment], it would be regressive because the benefits accrue largely to wealthier graduate students (rather) than poorer undergrads and there is an income cap."

Tax-exempt endowments

Trump also proposed reconsidering the tax-exempt status of colleges with large endowments if they don't use endowment funding to cut costs for students.

"Some schools are paying more to hedge funds and private-equity managers than they are spending on tuition and tuition assistance, while taxpayers are guaranteeing hundreds of billions of dollars of student loans to pay for rising tuition costs," Trump said. "We want universities to spend their endowments on their students, not themselves."

Administrative bloat

Trump criticized what he called "tremendous bloat" among university administrations. He cited a famous Vanderbilt University study that found the institution spent about $150 million to comply with federal regulations from 2013 to 2014. The study's findings were later criticized, however, by observers who noted that most of the money was connected to federal research regulations.

Trump said, "As president, I will immediately take steps to drive down college costs by reducing the unnecessary costs of compliance with federal regulations so that colleges can pass on the savings to students in the form of lower tuition." However, he did not elaborate on what those steps would be.

Political correctness

Trump slammed what he perceived as a culture of political correctness in higher education, but he did not offer specifics for how he would protect free speech on college campuses.  

"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," he said. "We will end the political correctness and foster free and respectful dialogue" (Kolowich/Thomason, Chronicle of Higher Education, 10/14; Jaschik, Inside Higher Ed, 10/14; Mulhere,Money, 10/14). 

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