Just two days after announcing her run for president, Hillary Clinton visited Kirkwood Community College in Monticello, Iowa—a school that has a strong partnership with K-12 schools, enabling students to earn college credit while still enrolled in high school.
The event, which you can watch online here, took the form of a round table, including high school students, community college students, a high school principal, a teacher, and others. The big themes were college affordability and postsecondary preparedness—but believe it or not, K-12 accountability and even the No Child Left Behind Act made an appearance. More on that below.
The Democratic presidential hopeful kicked off the roundtable with a few remarks. The upshot? She’s a huge fan of Kirkwood’s approach to dual enrollment and the opportunities it gives students to get actual workforce skills. “The cooperation between the college and the high school is something I want to see a whole lot more of,” Clinton said.
And she talked up her past record on education and children’s issues. (Read more about it here.) “I’ve been fighting for children and families my entire adult life,” she said. She talked about her early work with the Children’s Defense Fund, going door-to-door and trying to figure out if students with disabilities had access to the kinds of services they needed.
Then, Clinton heard from the principal of Central City Community School, Jason McLaughlin, who told her how helpful the dual enrollment program has been for his students. Kids can put their foot into the door of college, he said, and learn to manage postsecondary courses without accumulating debt and with guidance counselors holding their hands.
And McLaughlin said the model can help rural areas offer more rigorous coursework, “without having to hire an extra teacher to teach physics” or other subjects that can be hard to staff.
“Amen to that,” Clinton said. She was impressed that a high school student participating in the round table was able to get more than 40 credits under her belt before graduating from high school. “That’s terrific, cause then you’ll have to pay for” fewer college credits.
And, Clinton added, “In too many places there’s been a lack of focus about investing in education at all levels.”
While it sounds like Clinton thinks that most students can benefit from postsecondary training, that doesn’t necessarily need to take the form of a four-year degree, at least not right off the bat.
“I do agree ... that we have to do more to open up our education system so that we are meeting individual students where they are and where they could be with the right motivation,” she said. “I do think we have to have accountability measures, but not at the expense of individualized learning that has to go on.”
And when it comes to the NCLB law (that’s right, the law actually came up at this very early campaign event) Clinton said, “We’ve learned what works and what doesn’t work so well.” The challenge now: “How we take a system that has so much potential and has produced so many positive outcomes for so many people .. instead of arguing about education.”
Why even bother paying attention to these early events?
To be sure, Clinton’s remarks were pretty general—it’s hard to get a picture of exactly how her rhetoric would translate into hard-and-fast policy, which is pretty much to be expected at this point in the campaign. Plus, it’s not like dual enrollment is a particularly controversial issue—Clinton largely steered clear of talking about stuff that is (like testing).
But the fact that one of Clinton’s very first events was on education may be an indication of how central the policy is likely to be the 2016 presidential campaign. After all, children’s issues also came up in the GOP nomination launch events for Sens. Rand Paul and Marco Rubio.