WHY COLLEGE? To follow up on Matt's points below, it's worth noticing that the obsessive focus on college education bespeaks a certain cowardice and calculation in Democratic circles. College is a cost that primarily affects the middle class and the well-to-do but, particularly in the private context, is hefty enough that it can be burdensome for both. Talk of making it more affordable, while ostensibly aimed at subsidizing the poor, is really a poll-tested way to speak to the politically potent middle- and upper-income quintiles -- it's a way for the Democratic Party to speak up the income ladder, where the votes are.
The whole thing is a basically coded appeal, framed in terms of economic uplift so all can feel progressive while supporting something for themselves. If we spent one tenth the energy working on high school graduation rates, we'd have both a more powerful impact on the truly disadvantaged and a more significant impact on college attendance. The problem is, the middle class and the upper class aren't worried about their kids graduating from high school, and so talk of those problems doesn't resonate with large swaths of the electorate. And that all points to the underlying dynamic here and elsewhere in Democratic rhetoric: Progressives now try to address poverty in the context of the middle class -- they seek out economic issues which could aid the poor but have plenty of relevance up the income ladder. In doing, they ignore the most destructive and entrenched pathologies and problems, as those tend to be rather rare among higher income earners, and for that reason much more damaging to those caught in their grip. The ultimate problem here is that the poor rarely votes, while the middle class does, and it's damn hard for politicians to figure out how to focus the electorate on things that aren't their problem.