Standing on the edge of 2017, ahead of a Trump presidency that even 12 months ago hardly anyone predicted, means both that change is coming and direction is far from certain. In this first Wake-Up Call of 2017, we present five predictions for higher education focused on innovation and non-traditional schools. Hint, a Trump presidency looms large.
Prediction #1: Trump Pushes Back
The regulatory pendulum has swung for and against for-profits for decades, and a new swing is about to begin. The regulatory apparatus assembled under Obama, with for-profit schools as the main target, will be dismantled. Alleging both federal overreach and compromised rule-making, the new administration will consign much to the scrapheap.
Comments from Representative Virginia Foxx (R), expected Chairperson-Elect of the House Education Committee, about “diminishing” the role of the federal government in education, foretell efforts to turn the tide. On the chopping block will likely be the misrepresentation rules (which toughened federal action in the event of institutional misrepresentation of, say, accreditation or graduate outcomes), federal scrutiny of state authorization of distance learning, and the ban on incentive compensation for recruiters.
Gainful Employment—rules designed to hold mostly for-profit schools to account on graduate earnings but watered down through lawsuits—will also be ditched. Deregulation will be presented as an assertion of state’s rights rather than lack of concern about past or future abuses.
These rules came out of the federal government’s lengthy rule-making process, which must also be used to make changes. Trump appointees, however, could delay, suspend, or decide not to enforce certain provisions. Or, they could put forward novel interpretations of underlying legislation. Although a Trump Administration may not always follow due process, checks and balances will be needed to avoid lawsuits from aggrieved parties.
In our view, reduced regulation will, by itself, do little to revive for-profit enrollment. Nonprofit competition, savvier consumers, and degree alternatives are more important variables. Trump will favor non-degree and Associate’s provisions when it comes to higher education expansion.