How the new Trump administration will affect community colleges

Since the election, most higher education headlines have focused on the new administration’s potential impact on four-year colleges and universities as well as student responses and activism. While community colleges have received less high profile coverage, leaders should anticipate that new federal policies will have an impact on the college’s bottom line, particularly related to enrollments, financial management, and student support.

Return of for-profits and increased competition for enrollments

Community colleges’ market share of total undergraduate students declined from 44% in 2002 to 38% in 2013, with much of the initial decline attributed to the rise of for-profit colleges and four-year competition. The election caused many for-profit colleges’ stocks to jump considerably in response to President-elect Trump’s pledge to eliminate regulation.

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As many higher education observers, including Matt Reed from Inside Higher Ed, have pointed out for-profits’ have likely sustained too much reputational damage to challenge community colleges directly for enrollments in two-year programs. Yet without direct competition from for-profits, colleges can anticipate increased competition from four-year institutions who adopted for-profit marketing tactics to recapture more students.

Community colleges should also focus on another Trump campaign promise that could harm enrollments—stopping illegal immigration. First-generation immigrants and refugee populations are some of the fastest-growing student segments for community colleges, but President-elect Donald Trump’s promises to halt and reverse illegal immigration calls their enrollment status into question.Specifically Trump’s campaign promise to rescind President Obama’s executive orders includes the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) legislation that extended higher education access to hundreds of thousands of immigrants.

An overall reversal in immigration policy, even if it doesn't go into effect immediately, may have a wider discouraging effect on enrollment at community colleges. In particular, it could create another non-cognitive barrier, like filling out technical residency forms, for immigrant adults seeking another credential or looking to enroll in college for the first time.

Full study: Explore strategies to grow enrollment for first-generation students

Recommendation: Whether the Trump administration follows through on these reforms or not, community colleges should continue to improve how they proactively recruit prospective students, and systemically remove enrollment barriers to secure their pipeline of prospective students.

Strategies for removing barriers to enrollment on your campus

Challenge and opportunity from lower federal financing and funding

Both the Trump campaign and the Republican Party platforms have called for steady reductions of federal involvement in higher education. This includes increasing state autonomy to make regulatory and funding decisions, privatizing student debt, and freezing the Pell Grant maximum at $5,815. More than one-third of all community college students receive a Pell Grant, and these funding choices could affect their ability to pay for college.

A quick take on future trends in Pell Grant funding

In addition, anticipated changes to the Affordable Care Act are likely to reduce state funding for Medicaid expansion, creating new budgetary pressure to balance health care and other entitlement costs. State legislators will debate how to compensate for diminished federal funding, which could ultimately hurt the limited higher education funding available.

Support for community colleges remains a bipartisan issue, and rhetoric from both parties suggests it is unlikely to change. For example, President Obama’s call for free community college was based on the Tennessee Promise initiative, which is a last-dollar scholarship covering college costs not met from Pell, HOPE, or TSAA. Meanwhile, performance-based funding initiatives frequently originated from Republican governors looking to create more public accountability around higher education. However, even if this bipartisan support continues, it will increasingly come with strings attached based on institutional performance.

Recommendation: While evolving student financing and public funding may increase financial pressure in the near term, colleges should also look to this as an opportunity to increase the appeal of community college to return-on-investment (ROI) conscious students. Financial changes could pose an opportunity to elevate the community college brand among parents high schools, and on social media channels to more aggressively target price-conscious students.

Learn how to turn high school partnerships into college enrollments

Decreased federal oversight for gainful employment and Title IX

The recent appointments of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education and James F. Manning as transition chief at the Department of Education have added further uncertainty to the state of funding and regulation, especially in regards to gainful employment and Title IX enforcement.

In 2015, President Obama implemented the Gainful Employment rule to hold colleges accountable for poor job placement rates by withholding federal funding. The regulation significantly curtailed for-profit enrollment, which lead to the closure of Corinthian Colleges and ITT Technical Institute. Betsy DeVos may be sympathetic to Republican lawmakers’ calls for reversing Gainful Employment legislation given her past connections to for-profit educational groups.

Security will remain a top interest to campus leadership and students when it comes to both sexual assault and general safety. While federal regulators may not be watching as closely, these are issues that will continue to add cost to the college’s operating budget and create decision points around how to maintain status quo expectations with less budgetary support.

Recommendation: While the elimination of Gainful Employment and Title IX enforcement may remove a bureaucratic burden for community colleges, colleges will still need to keep an eye toward student expectations as part of their overall value proposition. EAB research shows that regardless of regulatory requirements, students remain price sensitive and sensitive to career outcomes as a return.

Discover strategies to organize and coordinate campus safety groups

Focus on what is in our control

Despite an unpredictable future for community colleges and higher education with President-elect Donald Trump's administration, we do know that the number of traditional-aged students continues to decline. Community college leaders must focus on enrollment and recruitment strategies in their control. Explore our study The Shifting Enrollment Landscape to learn how to engage specific audience segments through outreach activities that could encourage students to continue their education. Read the full study

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The Shifting Enrollment Landscape

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