Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

'Students Choking on Loans': Trump Attacks Colleges over Endowments

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

'Students Choking on Loans': Trump Attacks Colleges over Endowments

Article excerpt

But has Hillary Clinton left her Republican rival in the shade on higher education affordability?

"Trump stumbles on good idea." That was the backhanded compliment in one headline after Donald Trump said he wanted to see universities spending their "tax-free" and "multibillion-dollar" endowments to lower tuition fees for students.

The comments, at a rally in Pennsylvania on 22 September, were the Republican presidential candidate's first real statement on college affordability. By contrast, Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton - whom Mr Trump faced in the first presidential debate on 26 September - has made it one of her biggest policy priorities.

Mr Trump's comments come at a time of growing concern across the political spectrum about how the wealthiest universities use their endowments. But when it comes to college affordability, has Ms Clinton left him in the shade on a vital issue with voters?

US universities lead the world in the size of their endowments, of course. Harvard University has the largest, with a value of $35.7 billion (£27.5 billion), followed by Yale University with $25.4 billion.

Mr Trump's rally speech saw him accuse universities of failing to use their endowment income to benefit students. "Instead these universities use the money to pay their administrators, to put donors' names on their buildings, or just store the money, keep it and invest it," he said.

He also tried to signal an awareness of graduate debt: "The students are choking on those loans...And it's something I hear more and more and it's one of the things I hear more than anything else."

"We have to deal with these universities," he also said.

Mr Trump was echoing proposals from some Republicans in Congress, who have put forward a draft bill that would mean universities with endowments of over $1 billion would have to devote 25 per cent of annual endowment income for student financial aid or lose tax-exempt status.

Concern about the use of endowments is evident beyond the Republican Party.

The Education Trust, a non-profit advocacy group campaigning "for the high academic achievement of all students - particularly those of colour or living in poverty", published a report on endowment spending in August this year.

Andrew Nichols, the group's director of higher education research and data analytics, said: "As college continues to become more and more unaffordable for Americans, no group feels this burden like students from low-income families. If they choose to do so, institutions with extreme amounts of wealth can alleviate this burden today. …

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