Trump’s Higher Ed State of the Union

Yeah, yeah, yeah. We all know that the President of the United States rarely uses the State of the Union to focus on education issues. For every year that George W. Bush sought to ensure No Child Left Behind or Barack Obama looked for a Race to the Top, we’ve heard far more addresses where education is a passing mention at best.

A recent Politico poll found that 46 percent of Americans believe it is “very important” POTUS address education issues in tomorrow night’s address to Congress, while another 29 percent said was somewhat important. And while voters tend not to vote in national elections based on education issues, it is a good sign that Americans seem to want to elevate the rhetoric on topics of the classroom.

Over at BAM! Radio Network, dear ol’ Eduflack explored what a Trumpian address on K-12 education issues could look like. Highlighting the power of education to make America great again and expressing ire over other nations beating the U.S. of A on key international benchmarks, it isn’t a stretch to see how President Donald J. Trump could focus on elementary and secondary education issues.

But what could a focus on higher education look like? As rare as P-12 education is in the State of the Union, postsecondary education discussions are far rarer. By now, we all realize that Trump is hardly a politician of convention. So maybe it isn’t too late to drop this proposed section of “Trump-speak” into the address currently being finalized.

My election in 2016 was a sign that the American people were deeply concerned with their jobs, pocketbooks, and families. Voters rallied around the notion of ‘making America great again,’ recognizing that the strongest way we can make America great is by ensuring all of her people have well-paying jobs, both today and tomorrow.

Recently passes tax cuts are already having a direct impact on American works, as companies like Walmart and Disney and our leading banks are providing bonuses, incentives, and even college tuition assistance to their workers. So many of those businesses that are already rewarding their workers have one key thing in common. As companies, they have made the necessary adjustment to meet the needs of tomorrow. They have reimagined their businesses for the digital, Information Age in which we now all operate. These employees recognize the importance of workers with the knowledge and kills to do both the jobs of today AND of tomorrow. As a result, they will have huge successes under the new tax code.

It is time to bring that vision and that innovation to education, particularly to our colleges and universities. For the past year, Betsy DeVos and her team have been grappling with issues such as growing college tuition and the financial operating structures of individual universities. In communities across the country, colleges are shutting down because they lack the students and the impact they once had. All of this demonstrates a higher education system that is largely broken.

Unlike our businesses, higher education is still largely focused on process, not on outcomes. It rewards based on past achievement, not on future success. It prioritizes the needs and preferences of the provider, not the learner or customer.

That is why tonight I am directing my Education Department to chart a new course for postsecondary education in the United States, a course that takes us to our next destination, not our previous stops. We need to build them schools of tomorrow, preparing the workers of tomorrow with the skills of tomorrow for the jobs of tomorrow.

What does that mean?

First, we need to incentivize, not discourage, innovation in higher education. Just because a program or a school is doing things in a way that has never been done does not mean it should be prevented from doing so. That means empowering regulators and accreditors to encourage new models of thinking and instruction.

Second, we need to better understand the students of today – and tomorrow – while ensuring our institutions of higher learning are meeting their needs. The demographics of college students today are vastly different than those from a generation ago. How we teach those learners must also be different.

That requires a more personalized approach to college education. It is time to throw out the lecture halls and blue books. Instead, we look to advances like artificial intelligence, simulations, and virtual reality to help students learn in the ways that make the most sense to them. And we look for what students know and what they are able to do with that knowledge.

And finally, we need to ensure that classroom instruction meets real-world needs. That requires equipping every young learner today with the STEM skills needed to succeed in the jobs of tomorrow. And that requires forward-thinking classroom teachers able to teach those STEM skills in ways that are both relevant and interesting to today’s kids.

Across this great country, families are seeking a better life for their kids. In the 1950s, hardworking Americans sought the same, determining that sending their kids to college was the best path to that better life. In recent years, we have lost that sense of trust, seeing higher education instead as a playground for dilettantes and those without life direction. No more.

My Administration is committed to restoring American higher education to a position of greatness around the work. That is only done through innovation and an embrace of what is possible. It is done by breaking the restraints of over-regulation. And it is done by recognizing the future direction of higher education belongs not to the learner, not just to the provider. Only then can our colleges and universities become great again.

Imagine some applause lines like that in the 2018 SOTU.

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