How might Trump cut the Education Department?

He hasn't said whether he would eliminate the whole department or certain programs

President-elect Donald Trump (R) has repeatedly said that he would reduce the power of the Education Department as commander in chief. Writing for the Chronicle of Higher Education, Sarah Brown explains what that scenario might look like. 

While Trump has made clear he wants to trim down the Education Department, he has not offered specifics regarding how he would do so, or whether he would target the full department or only specific programs.

Trump could abolish the department but keep some activities functioning. In that case, experts say the legacy programs would probably be overseen by a separate agency.

Policy analysts say it is unlikely that the Education Department would be completely eradicated. While a Republican-leaning Congress could help Trump achieve his goals, passing such sweeping legislation won't be simple. 

How higher ed is responding to Trump's win

First, Republicans do not have enough of a majority in the Senate to block filibusters—though some leading Republicans have already proposed getting rid of the filibuster.

The greater devil may truly be in the details.

"You can't just say, 'We're going to sign a law and dismantle the department,'" says Christopher Cross, a former assistant secretary of education under former President George W. Bush (R). "There's so much to be sorted through."

"Many concerns about higher education are universal," such as access, affordability, and outcomes, says Patrick McGuinn, an associate professor of political science at Drew University. "How do you address those in the absence of federal policy and a federal department?"

Alexander Holt, a policy analyst at New America, explains that if the department were eliminated, something would have to be done with its $1.3 trillion federal student loan portfolio. He says that it could be privatized, but the odds of that happening are unlikely. And if a private entity were to phase out student loans, no new loans or Pell Grants could be issued.

Other key department functions that the administration would need to make decisions about changing, reallocating, or terminating include:

  • Agency-run programs such as Upward Bound;
  • College and university accreditation;
  • Title IX enforcement by the department's Office for Civil Rights;
  • Operating the National Center for Education Statistics; and
  • Allocating federal financial aid to higher education institutions. 

 (Brown, Chronicle of Higher Education, 11/8; Koger, Vox, 11/9). 

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