Former President Donald Trump is calling for a drastic expansion of the federal government’s oversight of colleges and universities, vowing to “reclaim” campuses that he asserts are “dominated by Marxist Maniacs and lunatics.”
In a video released by his campaign on Tuesday, Trump outlined a plan to reshape higher education if he returns to the White House, echoing some of the policies that his possible Republican primary rival, Gov. Ron DeSantis, has pursued in Florida.
“The time has come to reclaim our once great educational institutions from the radical Left, and we will do that,” Trump said. “Our secret weapon will be the college accreditation system.”
Trump’s plan: Trump said he would “fire” the existing accrediting organizations that oversee colleges and universities and replace them with new accreditors who would impose a range of new standards on colleges.
Under the plan, colleges would be required to remove all administrators involved in diversity, equity and inclusion efforts, whom Trump decried as “Marxist” bureaucrats.
Colleges would also be required to offer options for “accelerated and low-cost degrees” and provide “meaningful job placement and career services.” And Trump would also force colleges to implement entrance and exit exams “to prove that students are actually learning and getting their money’s worth.”
In addition, the plan suggests that colleges would be required to ensure that their curriculum defends “the American tradition and Western civilization,” though it does not provide additional details on what precisely that would entail.
Nod to DeSantis: Trump’s pledge comes as DeSantis has made it a key priority to drastically reshape Florida colleges and universities.
DeSantis is pushing legislation, which advanced in the state Senate last week, to restrict state colleges and universities from spending money on diversity, equity and inclusion programs. And he’s also sought to transform a public liberal arts school — New College of Florida — into a more conservative-leaning institution.
Last month, DeSantis signed legislation requiring universities to periodically change their accreditor, blasting the organizations for having too much power.
Key context: Colleges must be accredited by a federally recognized accreditor in order to accept federal student loans and Pell grants. The Education Department decides whether to recognize an accreditor based on whether it meets certain federal rules.
Those rules are focused mostly on whether accrediting agencies have the capacity to properly assess colleges and whether accreditors fairly and consistently apply their standards as they make decisions.
The federal rules don’t prescribe standards for colleges at the level of detail that Trump is proposing, and it’s not clear if Trump would need to change the law to pursue such as sweeping overhaul of accreditors.
Trump’s record: During his time in office, Trump’s Education Department under Secretary Betsy DeVos overhauled the federal rules governing college accrediting agencies. Those changes were largely aimed at eliminating regulatory burdens on colleges and accreditors, which DeVos said was needed to promote more innovation in higher education.
The new rules gave accreditors more flexibility in how they approve programs, for example. But they did not target curriculum being taught at universities or what types of administrators they hire, as Trump is now proposing.
Democrats assailed the Trump administration’s changes as a weakening of oversight over colleges, and the Biden administration has said it plans to revisit the rules for college accreditors later this year.
In addition, the Trump administration reinstated the federal powers of a large college accreditor of for-profit colleges that was responsible for approving campuses of ITT Tech and Corinthian Colleges, two large chains of colleges that shuttered amid allegations of fraud and misconduct.
That accreditor, the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, announced last year it was shutting down after the Biden administration revoked its federal recognition.