“I worry that we’re closing the doors to higher education in our own country,” Clinton said in a nearly 40-minute education policy address. “This great model that we’ve had that’s meant so much to so many is becoming further and further away from too many.”
As a co-host of the conference, Bush did not deliver a formal speech, but voiced similar concerns as Clinton during his brief opening remarks.
“Higher education in America has a growing affordability problem while billions in the developing world struggle with accessibility,” Bush said.
Monday’s conference was the third time over the past year that Bush and Clinton appeared at the same public event and, to many political observers, offered a glimpse of a possible 2016 general election match-up. Both Bush and Clinton are weighing whether to run for president, and both would be establishment favorites in their parties.
Unlike at previous events, however, Bush and Clinton did not appear together on stage on Monday in Texas. Clinton was introduced not by Bush, but by his co-host, former North Carolina governor Jim Hunt (D). Although Clinton praised Bush, saying he focused on education as governor and “has continued that work with passion and dedication in the years since.”
In his remarks, Bush said he believes technology could help make college more affordable in the United States and more accessible to foreign students.
“Exporting U.S. post-secondary education to global consumers at scale can help really resolve both issues simultaneously,” Bush said. “Expanding access through technology can bring down the cost of delivery at home and abroad.”
Clinton largely agreed, but cautioned that technology is no substitute for the kind of learning that occurs in a classroom full of engaged and thoughtful peers.
“Technology is a tool, not a teacher,” Clinton said. “It cannot replace hands-on experience, on-the-job training or laboratory-based experiments. On its own, it cannot teach creativity or critical thinking. But it can open doors that didn’t even exist a few short years ago.”
Clinton called on the United States to “redefine higher education” to provide more opportunities for people to gain vocational and technical skills. She also said the country needs to “reorient our social expectations” to encourage more young people to study science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
Clinton highlighted the work she did on education as secretary of state, saying she made it “a major focus of our foreign policy efforts.” And she singled out the story of Malala, a Pakistani teenager who was attacked by the Taliban for speaking out about the importance of girls’ education.
“When they couldn’t shut-up Malala because she had learned to speak for herself, they tried to kill her,” Clinton said. “And now she’s a symbol of what education for girls can mean, deep in the hearts of so many children who are otherwise denied.”