Hillary Clinton's technology plan: first thoughts and implications for education

The Hillary Clinton campaign released a major statement on technology policy (shorter version) this week.  Here I’d like to quickly sketch it out, then look for education implications, with final notes on what it means for the presidential race.

Overall, it’s a very mixed bag, with a variety of proposals and stances aimed (unsurprisingly) at winning over a diverse set of voters and contributors. Some are very specific calls for programs and spending, while others are symbolic, or gestures towards discussion.  There are some benefits for education, along with problems and missed chances.

1: the policy

This is an ambitious, multi-pronged plan, aimed at connecting technology to American economic growth.  It includes actions in education, state government, federal policy, and business outreach.  It also features nonactions in the form of commissions for tricky topics.

Clinton-the-briefingOne caveat: this is a campaign document, issued before the nominating convention has even been held.  Much can happen over the next five months of probably brutal campaigning.  And much more depends on what kind of Congress appears in 2017, if Clinton is elected president.  There are few mentions of how to fund these programs.

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 Key definitions (i.e., broadband) are left open.  So this plan is tentative.  I’m reviewing it here because it probably does point to likely policy down the road, and is part of the important campaign right now.

Key components of the plan include: expanding STEM education; supporting entrepreneurship; “innovation clusters and entrepreneurship hubs, like Silicon Valley”; inviting more graduate degree-holding immigrants; expanding broadband access; supporting some emerging technologies (“Internet of Things, smart factories, driverless cars, and much more”; blockchain); net neutrality; reforming government communications; government-business partnerships.

The plans include a wide range of government levels, from the federal down to cities.  For instance, “Hillary will challenge state and local governments to identify, review, and reform legal and regulatory obligations that protect legacy incumbents against new innovators”.  Or this call for a kind of public IoT for cities:

Hillary will dedicate federal research funding to test-bedding, field trials, and other public-private endeavors to speed the deployment of next generation wireless networks and a civic Internet of Things… Her investments will aim at using advanced wireless and data innovation to drive social priorities in a range of areas, such as public safety, health care, environmental management, traffic congestion, and social welfare services.

One especially ambitious plan is to bring broadband to every American by 2020.

Most of the policies leave today’s economic problems untouched.  For example, in response to the gig economy and the problems many have in receiving benefits, Clinton will… convene a committee.  No, seriously: “We must consider more ways in which the government can build the next era safety net in other areas. Hillary will convene a high level working group of experts, business and labor leaders to recommend how best to ensure that people have the benefits and security they need no matter how they work.

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Clinton calls for supporting the open internet, which must be a relief to Silicon Valley.  It’s not clear how the campaign squares this with her simultaneous calls for expanding copyright, preventing user radicalization, and increased surveillance.  There’s a lot of wriggle room in statements like this:

she supports Senator Mark Warner and Representative Mike McCaul’s idea for a national commission on digital security and encryption.  This commission will work with the technology and public safety communities to address the needs of law enforcement, protect the privacy and security of all Americans that use technology, assess how innovation might point to new policy approaches, and advance our larger national security and global competitiveness interests.

Hey, another commission!

Data is a key theme, with recommendations for more data-gathering and analytics.  “Data-driven dashboards that present an organization’s goals and their performance against those goals are increasingly the norm…”

2: for education

There are many points in here.

Alternative degrees, including microcredentialing: Clinton wants to outflank and/or reform higher ed, following in Obama’s footsteps.

Open up the Higher Education and Job Training Landscape: Hillary’s College Compact dedicates $10 billion in federal funding to enable students to participate in promising new programs—such as nanodegrees, accelerated learning programs for computer coding, career and technical training, certificates for “specializations,” and online learning. Companies are already partnering with universities and education providers to create degree programs outside of traditional settings, so that students can obtain skills directly relevant to career placements. Hillary will enable students to use federal student aid in these types of new programs, as long as they are accountable and have proven track records of success.

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And she will establish incentives for colleges and universities to accept these kinds of alternative learning programs as credit toward graduation.

“open up” is a curious phrase, implying a resistant, closed postsecondary sector.

STEM city: this document is chock full of calls for more computer science instruction, more STEM experts, more technology, more science.  Clinton calls for “an additional 50,000 CS teachers in the next ten years”, among other desiderata. That certainly resonates with a number of current trends, from majors and jobs to political criticisms of the humanities.

Support for new learning technologies, at least in the business world: “[s]he would pay particular attention to supporting the development and use of advanced training technologies”.

Support for minority serving campuses: “Hillary’s college plan creates a $25 billion fund to support colleges that serve minority students, such as Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs).”

Student loans: Clinton offers an interesting proposal, deferring or forgiving loans for graduates who pursue startups.

Hillary will allow entrepreneurs to put their federal student loans into a special status while they get their new ventures off the ground.  For millions of young Americans, this would mean deferment from having to make any payments on their student loans for up to three years—zero interest and zero principal—as they work through the critical start-up phase of new enterprises. Hillary will explore a similar deferment incentive not just to founders of enterprises, but to early joiners – such as the first 10 or 20 employees.   Additionally, for young innovators who decide to launch either new businesses that operate in distressed communities, or social enterprises that provide measurable social impact and benefit, she will offer forgiveness of up to $17,500 of their student loans after five years.

(See final link on this page for one rejoinder)

Furthering the internationalizing of higher education: Clinton wants more foreign grad students studying and staying in the US, continuing a major trend.

Far too often, we require talented persons from other countries who are trained in U.S. universities to return home, rather than stay in here and continue to contribute to our economy. As part of a comprehensive immigration solution, Hillary would “staple” a green card to STEM masters and PhDs from accredited institutions—enabling international students who complete degrees in these fields to move to green card status.

Expanded federal research monies: “As President, Hillary will look to grow the research budgets of entities like the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy, and DARPA, so that we can tackle big challenges—like ensuring America continues to lead the world in High Performance Computing, green energy, and machine learning.”

Support for the gig economy (see above) suggests no moves to reverse adjunctification .  (“The digital economy is creating exciting opportunities for Americans to join the labor force in new capacities. It is enabling people to offer their services as freelancers and contractors, to earn extra cash through flexible and part-time work and assorted gigs…”)

Expanding broadband, including cell phone coverage (which may let some users bypass bad WiFi and cable) .   Iff successful, this would be a boon for many Americans currently unable to access the broadband world.  This also means turning more sites into connectivity hubs: “This would enable recreation centers, public buildings like one-stop career centers, and transportation infrastructure such as train stations, airports, and mass transit systems, to access to high-speed internet and provide free WiFi to the public.”

Copyright: Hillary Clinton continues her and her husband’s pro-IP stance.  “She will advance Export Control Reform, pursue policies to protect trade secrets and IP…”  I’m not sure how to parse this one: “she will encourage stakeholders to work together on creative solutions that remove barriers to the seamless and efficient licensing of content in the U.S. and abroad.”

On the other hand, there’s an opening in her support for “free flow of data”, as in: “[s]he also maintains her opposition to policies that unnecessarily restrict the free flow of data online –such as the high profile fight over the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA).”  Clinton also seems to support freeing up orphan works: “Hillary believes the federal government should modernize the copyright system by unlocking—and facilitating access to—orphan works that languished unutilized, benefiting neither their creators nor the public.”  And she wants government documents to be more open: “She will also promote open-licensing arrangements for copyrighted material and data supported by federal grant funding, including in education, science, and other fields” and “Hillary will continue and accelerate the Administration’s open data initiatives, including in areas such as health care, education, and criminal justice.”

On the third hard, the plan has this weirdly ahistorical line: “the copyright system has languished for many decades”.  No, it hasn’t!  Copyright law has been repeatedly revised, extended, and challenges.  The Creative Commons and other alternatives have been invented and taken up.  A whole generation has arisen knowing something of copyright infringement.  Battles have been nonstop.  Is this line just a glitch, or does it reveal some large ambition to revise copyright?

3: for the 2016 presidential race

If we consider this a campaign document, it certainly hits a lot of appropriate buttons.  It has a strong emphasis on gender and racial diversity, hallmarks of the Clinton campaign.  It emphasizes Main Street instead of Wall Street, although its effects would certainly gratify the latter; to me this suggests the influence of Bernie Sanders’ campaign, as do three invocations of reducing income inequality.

It’s also strongly aimed at Silicon Valley, with its very rich donors.  As the Clinton-friendly Washington Post remarks, “The agenda released Tuesday reads like a Silicon Valley wish list.”

The college grad entrepreneurship plan is clearly aimed at young voters, who have generally preferred Sanders to Clinton so far.

The word “job” occurs 30 times, by my count.  While there are many notes about creating jobs, there aren’t any about unions.  “reducing regulatory barriers” is a phrase that recurs in various forms.

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It’s a very pro-business platform.

What do you make of it?

(via Doug Henwood on Twitter)

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