I first met Jason Palmer in 2014, when he was working at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation as the deputy director for postsecondary education. Since then, I’ve known Jason as a colleague who works at the intersection of ed tech and higher education policy. You can understand my surprise when Jason wrote to tell me that he is running as a Democrat for president of the United States. I’m fascinated that Jason, a serious and highly accomplished professional with a long career in leadership roles across the higher education ecosystem, decided to run against Biden to be the Democratic nominee. Running for president is time-consuming, so I’m grateful to Jason that he agreed to take some time to speak to our Inside Higher Ed community about his decision to run for president.
Q: Help us understand your rationale for running against President Biden to be the 2024 Democratic nominee. What motivated you to run?
A: My decision to engage in public service has been brewing for the past decade, since my time at the Gates Foundation, but it really accelerated over the course of 2023. There are multiple reasons which added up to my ultimate decision to run for president. The biggest reason was all the reports about young people feeling helplessness and despair, an overall sense that the biggest problems of our era aren’t being addressed. Congress keeps getting more and more dysfunctional. The leaders of both parties seem unable or unwilling to find win-win solutions for the working class and the next generation. Traditional candidates for public office are stoking the flames, offering 20th-century solutions to 21st-century problems just to get elected—and then achieving very little once they’re in federal government.
When education or workforce readiness comes up in our national debate, it’s about critical race theory and transgender bathrooms, not 21st-century skills, apprenticeships, credentials or quality jobs. This is not acceptable. I will not allow the United States of America sink into an abyss of ignorance—not on my watch.
My presidential campaign aims to pull America out of these conflicts by offering a very different, positive, optimistic vision of how we can work together to reinvent and rebuild the American dream for the 21st century. We will focus on energizing young people and center-left/center-right problem-solvers. These important contributors have become disengaged by our current political system and don’t support either big government or big business as the way forward. We must invest much more in our young people—our students and early-career workers—by dramatically upgrading our education-to-workforce system. We will rebuild our government and laws on a modern platform that puts investments in people first.
Q: What are your arguments for why those of us in the higher education community should take the time to visit Palmer for President and learn about your candidacy?
A: Please take a second and think about what America means to you. The readers of this publication believe in education, and our higher education system is still the best in the world. But we are losing the rest of the country. The majority of young people don’t believe college is worth it anymore. There was once a time when our academic and technology leaders regularly pursued public service as a way to give back to the next generation. That’s what I’m offering here, and I want to serve with many of you at my side. Many of us are at the pinnacle of our careers while America is burning all around us. I think the 2024 election offers us a unique opportunity to take our country back.
Numerous polls show that two-thirds of the voting public wants an alternative to the two main presidential candidates. More than 90 percent of younger Americans want an alternative. The American public wants someone younger, preferably someone who has built a successful career in business—but who also understands how to transform our educational system, where those young people spend 15 to 20 years of their lives. They seek someone from outside Washington who has been a bridge builder across public-private partnerships. My teams and I have proven that we can win when it’s David versus Goliath. That’s how it works in the start-up world. We are going to show how a national presidential campaign can be run like a lean start-up by leveraging artificial intelligence, growth hacking and guerrilla marketing. We are going to build on top of existing movements and create new multipartisan coalitions to win.
Because of my decades of experience as a technology entrepreneur, turnaround leader and impact investor—working almost exclusively in education technology and education innovation, at the boundary where education meets workforce—my candidacy offers a distinct alternative to any other candidate. Our plan is based on putting people first on the solid foundation of conscious capitalism. Millions of us are already working as entrepreneurs, educators and builders at the intersection of public-private innovation, and we are ready to return America to a land of respect, civility, kindness and inclusion. We believe the torch needs to be passed to a new generation of fellow mission-driven Americans.
Q: How would the priorities of a Palmer administration Department of Education toward online program management and other ed-tech companies compare to ED’s current policies under Biden? In general, what would a Palmer presidency mean for colleges and universities?
A: This is a very specific question, and I’d like to broaden it. The readers of this publication believe in education, and our higher education system is still the best in the world. But we are losing the rest of the country. The majority of young people don’t believe traditional college is worth it anymore. At the same time, postsecondary education is changing faster than everyone realizes, and the pace is accelerating. Southern New Hampshire University is now educating 225,000 students, and almost all of America’s top universities offer strong and growing digital degree and subdegree credential programs. The future is digital and hybrid learning, with students earning stackable credentials while going back and forth between college and career in shorter and more workforce-integrated bursts.
If I’m elected president, we’ll pass a much larger and better Workforce Pell within a month, and we’ll do more to change higher education funding and regulations to increase resources for adult learners, stackable subdegree credential programs and also digital learning in general. Spending four years at an American university in a residential program earning a bachelor’s degree will continue to be one of the most valuable luxury experiences in the world. But we need to accept that most students want (and are only able to afford) six-month to two-year academic experiences that lead to credentials with labor market value.
My administration will dramatically expand apprenticeship programs, partnerships between industry and educational institutions, and system-level collaborations. We need to accelerate the innovation that is happening in colleges and universities across America (many of them led by readers of this publication, I know!) by directing federal funding towards evidence-based solutions that lead to better education and workforce outcomes. This will be a group effort; I don’t purport to have all the answers. But I’d love to have many of you on my side, helping to grow the pie for American higher education and accelerate the innovation that we all know is long overdue. For more, please visit my website at https://palmerforpresident.us/.