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Donald Trump’s college reform ideas are surprisingly good

(AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

(AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

The Trump campaign is touting its higher education approach as a “revolutionary” change for students and colleges. Unlike his other exaggerated ideas, his ideas for education could prompt significant improvement.

Though Trump’s education platform hasn’t been completed, it has the opportunity to launch deep reforms in the student loan industry and hold colleges accountable for student outcomes.

“Many of the ideas on which the Trump campaign is working involve a complete overhaul of the federal student loan system, moving the government out of lending and restoring that role to private banks, as was the case before President Clinton partially and President Obama fully shifted loan origination from private lenders to the government,” according to Inside Higher Ed.

The Trump approach is led by Sam Clovis, the campaign’s policy director and a professor at Morningside College in Iowa.

Clovis suggested student loan should be viewed as a “partnership” among the student, the bank, and the college, rather than student aid from the government and parental funding.

Getting the government out of the student loan business could mean fewer students find funding for degrees that don’t have large economic returns. Or, those students would shift toward community colleges and less-expensive four-year colleges.

He’s serious about accountability, too. Clovis believes that “risk needs to be substantial enough to change the way colleges decide whether to admit students, and which programs they offer,” Scott Jaschik wrote.

That could mean a policy that promotes more selective enrollment and higher graduation rates. It could restrict college access, but also spare students the fate of dropping out with student loan debt. Alternatively, it could maintain enrollment rates, but force administrator hands to invest in support services to keep students engaged and on track to graduate. That would be much easier for four-year colleges. Many more students enroll part-time at community colleges and are more likely to drop out than their four-year counterparts.

The Trump campaign is concerned about preserving free speech on campus as well, and also wants to reform the Department of Education. Its Office for Civil Rights, for instance, would get transferred to the Department of Justice to investigate discrimination and sexual assault cases, among others.

The overall effects could be huge. The student loan industry has become the backbone of higher education. Without easy access to federal funds, enrollments could drop and universities would be forced to cut costs. An environment where colleges compete for students would make college affordable again.

Much has to be reformed in higher education and a Trump administration would face significant hurdles inside the federal government and outside of it. In a strange twist of fate, from all the Republican candidates, Donald Trump has proposed the most robust plan for college reform.

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