Hillaryland, We Have an Edu-Optics Problem

Typically, Eduflack tries to stay away from purely political issues here. Yes, I love to write about the intersection of education policy, politics, and communications. But there has to be a real education slant to it. Even though Eduflack is a former campaign hack and flack, and has worked to elect Democrats (and a few Republicans) to political office, and even though I am a former elected official myself, this isn’t a political platform.

So I’ve largely bitten my tongue (at least on this blog) when it comes to the rookie mistakes and amateur actions that we have seen month after month from Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. I’m not going to rehash those here, but with her experience, with the experience of the best political team money can buy, let’s just say I expect much, much better.

But this morning, those problems oozed out into the edu-sphere, so I see it as fair game on Eduflack. As many news outlets are reporting, today Hillary Clinton is announcing a $350 billion college affordability plan. Bloomberg’s account of the plan is here, while The Washington Post’s is here and Politico’s can be found here.

Let me make clear. I don’t have any issue with any efforts to increase the number of college-going (and college-completing) Americans, nor do I oppose efforts to make college more affordable (even if it is by loan, rather than grant). And I don’t even take issue with a plan that, as reported, sound remarkably like the idea that Toby and Josh hatched in a bar on West Wing when they missed the campaign plane in Indiana and got stranded in a local bar and met a dad who didn’t know how he was going to pay for college for his daughter.

No, my real issue is with the optics of today’s announcement. While every major media outlet has already reported on the Clinton affordability plan, the official announcement will be made today in New Hampshire. In Exeter, New Hampshire.

For those unfamiliar, Exeter is the hometown of the Phillips Exeter Academy, one of the most elite private high schools in the nation. The uber-wealthy who send their children to this private high school pay, according to the school’s website, $46,905 a year in tuition, room, and board. They also have to pony up $180 for linen service, $365 for a student health and wellness fee, and $340 for a technology fee. For an optional $2,060, families can also buy a student accident/sickness insurance plan (for when, I’m assuming, the student health fee and mommy and daddy’s corporate insurance just won’t do).

While this may cause some sticker shock for many of us parents, don’t fret. Phillips Exeter boasts that it is able to provide financial aid to those families who suffer by earning less than $400,000 a year. (No, that isn’t a typo, that’s $400k, not $40k.)

Let that sink in for a moment. We are off to talk about the struggles of middle class parents paying for college in a town where the private high school costs more than most middle class parents’ take-home income for the entire year. We are preaching “affordability” in a community where those earning just under a half-million-dollars a year are considered needy and demanding of financial aid.

The sunny-eyed optimist in me would like to believe that Hillary is going to Exeter to proclaim that every student, even those who attend the elitist Phillips Exeter Academy, should have the opportunity and ability to attend the college of their choice. But the steely-eyed realist knows Exeter was chosen because it was in New Hampshire, with no real symbolism at all.

I hate to break it to those making campaign decisions these days, but the average American family doesn’t quite relate to a private school that charges upwards of $50,000 a year FOR HIGH SCHOOL. They bristle when one suggests $400,000 a year in income qualifies for financial aid.

Hillary’s advisors may see today as the declaration of a “mandate to act on college affordability,” as they told Politico. But for far too many families who currently don’t qualify for grants and yet can’t afford college for their kids next year, they will see it as just another example of the millionaire class just not getting it. Particularly when Hillary’s standard $275,000 speaking fee was more than adequate, with just one speech, to pay for daughter Chelsea’s four years at Stanford University.

Face. Palm. Repeat.

UPDATE: For those who want to give Hillary the benefit of the doubt, and have asked some questions, I’ll offer up a little more data. The grand unveiling of the plan will be at Exeter High School. As for the town of Exeter, New Hampshire itself. I’m sure it is lovely. It has a little more than 14,000 residents, more than 95 percent of whom are white. Two percent of the population is Asian-American. A little more than half a percent of the population is African-American. Latinos don’t even register. And the median family income falls just short of $100,000 per year. Ain’t that America?

2 thoughts on “Hillaryland, We Have an Edu-Optics Problem

  1. The Academy is just located in Exeter. This is a stretch to spank her campaign on the location. Exeter is a wonderful Community but not a 1% place.
    We have a nice high school that can accommodate a crowd and traffic . Campaigns really need better venues than old and small town halls.
    ” nothing to see here folks, move along”
    Mike

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