The tumultuous early weeks of the Trump administration have produced plenty of headlines and controversy, but almost nothing on higher education. The nominee for Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, has only recently been confirmed, and given her background in K-12, higher education was not a major theme of her Senate hearing. The announcement of a task force to reform higher ed, to be led by Liberty University President, Jerry Falwell, Jr., gave little detail about its policy priorities or objectives, but remains the young administration’s only substantive action on higher ed to date.
Last year’s electoral campaign and executive actions in the early weeks of the administration, however, offer some insight into education priorities, pointing attention—and, potentially, funding—toward workforce development and institutional accountability. Neither area is a major departure from longstanding trends in higher education, but the administration’s emphasis will create opportunities for entrepreneurs and investors alike.
Opportunity: Educating America’s Workforce
Throughout the campaign, then-candidate Trump made restoring manufacturing jobs a centerpiece of his platform. Early executive orders and announcements have reiterated this theme, suggesting that it will remain a focus of his administration.
The president typically casts his jobs message as a warning to U.S. manufacturers who outsource supply lines and production facilities to foreign countries. He has also repeatedly spoken of restricting the flow of immigrants who might compete with American workers. He has not, however, emphasized automation or the increasing skill requirements for workers in growth sectors such as technology, advanced manufacturing and healthcare.
Nonetheless, these latter trends are greater contributors to the stagnation that has dimmed the career prospects for many American workers and must be key considerations for any effective job creation plan.
Regardless of the causes, education will be essential to the solution. Upskilling and retraining programs create a virtuous cycle, encouraging corporate and government investments in new factories by bolstering the preparation and potential of local workforces. EdTech that supports flexible delivery models and decreases time (and cost) to marketable credentials—such as CBE, micro-credentialing and experiential learning platforms—will provide critical infrastructure to retrain and strengthen the U.S. workforce.
Tools that align educational opportunities with employer demand for specific skills and expertise will continue to gain attention and investment dollars for their systems that provide better data to help students and coaches personalize learning experiences and pathways to credentials.