An Advocate Emerges: One NASFAA Volunteer’s Path To The Senate Hearing Room

By Katy Hopkins, Communications Staff 

NASFAA’s members are the vital baseline for much of the organization’s advocacy efforts. Stories and observations from the front lines of aid offices are key to informing policy work by NASFAA staff on Capitol Hill—and may well serve as a platform for members to get directly involved in Washington, D.C., too. 

That’s what happened to Ken Kocer, who, to hear him tell it, would never have predicted his rise to national advocacy. 

As director of student financial assistance at Mount Marty College and president of the South Dakota Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (SDASFAA), Kocer has long been active at the regional level. But it wasn’t until he attended the NASFAA Leadership & Legislative Conference a few years ago that he began to make national inroads as well.  

“A huge benefit of the NASFAA Leadership Conference is the time allocated to meet with the staff of our senators and representatives to discuss important issues facing our students and our profession as a whole,” Kocer said.  “This contact is where you can form the ties to let our elected officials know they can use you as a resource when these issues come to the forefront of their policy decisions.”  

In Washington, D.C., Kocer met with staffers for South Dakota’s congressional leaders, including Sen. Tim Johnson (D-SD). After a fruitful conversation, Kocer mentioned that the staff could contact him in the future if the Senator ever wanted more information. 

A few months ago, Johnson’s staffers did just that. The Senate Committee on Banking, Housing & Urban Affairs, which Sen. Johnson now chairs, was slated to hold a hearing on financial products, including private student loans. Could Kocer come to Washington, D.C. to testify?

“Ask any of my fellow financial aid administrators in SDASFAA and they would tell you that I would probably be the least likely … to take the step to testify for a Senate committee,” Kocer said. "The fact of the matter is that opportunities to present your – or your state’s -- views on important issues facing financial aid can and will present themselves.”

Though he was initially hesitant to present, Kocer prepped with NASFAA’s Megan McClean and Jesse O’Connell, did mock Q&As with NASFAA President Justin Draeger, and delivered an outstanding testimony to the committee. Kocer informed the senators of several NASFAA advocacy issues, including the ability for financial aid administrators to limit loan amounts for broad categories of students, and a universal portal in which borrowers could track federal, private, and institutional loans. 

Kocer, who has previously served as SDASFAA president, said he ran again in part because he hopes to encourage more financial aid administrators to get involved and volunteer.

“You never know when an elected official from your home state may become a member of a Senate or House committee that will address a topic that will directly impact the way policy is created to regulate financial aid processes,” he noted.

For those interested in volunteering like Kocer, NASFAA offers several ways to get involved. NASFAA’s next Leadership & Legislative Conference & Expo will be held March 1-3, 2015 and will offer even more opportunities to get involved at the national level. NASFAA staff have expanded the conference to offer two distinct tracks: the New & Aspiring Aid Directors Pathway, for those who want to grow their management skills so they can run a financial aid office efficiently, and the Association Management Pathway, for rising volunteers or those who want to become a future volunteer at the state, regional, or national level. 

NASFAA’s Advocacy Pipeline also opens a door for members to meet with their state’s leaders. To learn how you can become more involved, visit or email


Publication Date: 8/13/2014

Eileen O | 8/13/2014 11:0:38 PM

Congratulations on a job well done, speaking on the Hill, Ken! It was a pleasure to meet you at the SDASFAA Conference. - Eileen O'Leary

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