Fight for Financial Aid Organizing Guide

What You Can Do to Fight Student Aid Cuts in Congress, on Campus, and in Your Community

In this guide, you will find information on how to make your voice heard in the Fight for Financial Aid. Organizing a rally, visiting with your member of Congress, posting on social media – all of these are opportunities to educate people about the importance of federal student aid and motivate them to get involved. This guide is designed for the use of a broad community of student aid advocates, including institutions, students and student governments, and community leaders.

What can you do to Fight for Financial Aid?

  1. Form a Coalition
  2. Get the Word Out
  3. Connect With Your Member of Congress
  4. Hold an Event

1. Form a Coalition

The first step is to form a coalition on your campus. A diverse group of people who all derive some sort of benefit from federal student aid programs will send a stronger message, and give your group more credibility with members of Congress and the media. For example, college presidents have access to opinion leaders and legislators that students simply don't have. At the same time, students are the beneficiaries of the aid programs and provide the sheer numbers of people that are critical in this debate. Members of the faculty and administration, trustees, and parents have a natural interest in the preservation of student aid, as well as valuable talents and contacts. Small business owners, members of the local chamber of commerce, and presidents of service clubs bring additional access to political leaders, and broaden the argument for federal student aid programs.

2. Get the Word Out

Large parts of your community may not know about the proposed cuts to federal student aid. Consider different ways to engage and educate campus administrators, students, faculty, staff, and community members. Social media can be a powerful tool in information disbursement. Use #Fight4FinAid on Facebook and Twitter to elevate the broader campaign.

Keep all information clear and consistent. All literature should be simple and focus on how cuts to federal aid will affect students, and what people on your campus can do to be part of the effort to save student aid. You should create fact sheets showing how the cuts would affect your student body. (You can use NASFAA’s Budget Effect Estimator (BEE) tool to get the numbers for your institution.) NASFAA’s Fight for Financial Aid page includes a variety of tools and resources, including a printable budget fact sheet.

Make sure everyone has access to information on the budget process. Use NASFAA’s Federal Budget and Appropriations page to find more information on the budget process and a news archive.

  • Tell people how they can get involved. Most importantly, your information should convey the immediacy of the issue. These programs are in danger now, and we must act to save them now.
  • Maintain a presence. Keep your institution focused on the issue by sponsoring periodic events and providing current information. Don't let the issue grow stale. The more people feel they know about the changing congressional scene and what they can do to stop the proposed cuts to student aid, the more prepared they will be to help out.
  • Work with the media. Local, regional, and national news stories are a good way to send your message to Congress. Stories on issues of interest are clipped by staff in the district offices of representatives, and then sent to the Washington, D.C., office to be read by your member of Congress –– usually within 24 hours. Work with your institution's public relations office to coordinate your media activities. You may be able to use their media mailing and contact lists. To connect with students, be sure to connect with student newspapers and blogs. Explain to them what the effects of the proposed cuts might be on your campus.

Here are three ways to get the word out through the media:

  1. Letters to the Editor: Letters to the editor provide another useful way to educate the general public about the cuts being made to federal student aid. Following a few basic rules will improve your chances of getting published:
    • Keep the letter short and to the point (around 150 words). Do not try to make several points in the same letter-let someone else cover other topics.
    • Always sign your letter and provide your address and daytime phone number. Most newspapers will not accept a letter unless they can call to verify the author's identity. Most papers will accept no more than one letter per month from the same person.
    • Demonstrate the diversity of your coalition by having many people write.
  2. Editorial Boards: Put together a group of influential people –– business or community leaders, the college presidents, and student leaders –– to meet with the editorial board of your local newspaper. If you are well prepared and armed with facts on how the cuts will affect the students, the campus, and the community, you may generate a positive editorial. Your members of Congress monitor the editorial page closely as a barometer of their constituents' opinions.
  3. Op-Eds: Many newspapers will accept opinion pieces submitted by members of the community. These pieces (often called "op-eds," from their location opposite the editorial page) allow you to make several arguments in support of federal student aid. Have the college president, student government officials, and community leaders submit op-eds to the newspaper.

3. Connect With Your Member of Congress

Bring a Member of Congress to Campus. Members of Congress are usually anxious to meet the people whose lives are affected by their votes-and when they do, the experience often remains with them for many years. Invite your member of Congress, and the staff responsible for higher education issues, on campus and show them the human face of student aid. Work with your institution's government relations office to coordinate your activities.

When you invite a member of Congress to campus it is critical that you begin planning well in advance. Getting them to attend depends on your level of organization. Members are very busy. The sooner you plan your event the better, as their schedules fill up rapidly. Contact the district office and ask to speak with the scheduler. Make the invitation, then follow up with a confirmation letter. Be prepared to be flexible on the date, and plan for last-minute cancellations –– the legislative calendar often changes with little notice.

  1. Tour the financial aid office. Let the members see first-hand how financial aid works, and introduce them to students who receive federal student aid. This gives them a concrete reference point to use when aid programs are being debated. E.g., ''I visited with a student who works 30 hours a week and attends school full-time. Cutting funds for student aid will force this student to give up on the American dream of achieving a college degree." Schedule a meeting with the president of the college and the director of financial aid. These meetings will help foster a personal relationship that will provide invaluable access to the member during critical debates.
  2. Host an issues forum on campus. Ask your member of Congress, local business leaders, the president of your institution, the financial aid administrator, and students to be on the panel. Advertise the event on campus and ask local papers to post it in the community calendar. Topics of the forum could include the impact of the college on the local economy (job training, employment, cultural opportunities), the proposals before Congress to cut or eliminate student aid programs, and the impact such cuts would have on students at your institution.
  3. Hold a rally. Invite your representatives to address the students. Enthusiastic students will show your representatives that their constituents take the issue seriously. Visit our Holding an Effective Rally in Support of Student Aid page for more suggestions.

Visit Your Representatives. A visit with a member of Congress works both ways. Anytime you travel to Washington, D.C., be sure to schedule a meeting with your member of Congress or the staff members responsible for higher education issues. Members often have more time for constituents during congressional recesses when they visit their district office(s). Maintaining a steady dialogue with them--even when there are no pending votes--will benefit your campus and the cause of federal student aid in the long run.

  1. Make an appointment. Call your member's Washington, D.C., or district office and ask to speak with the scheduler. Explain that you are a concerned citizen and want to meet with your representative to talk about student aid. If the representative is not available, make an appointment with the legislative assistant who covers education or budget and appropriations matters instead. They understand the issues you are concerned with, and will make sure your message gets to the representative.
  2. Be prepared. Go into the meeting with specific information and examples of how federal student aid cuts will affect you and the people of the representative's district. (You can use NASFAA’s Budget Effect Estimator (BEE) tool to get the numbers for your institution.) Take with you a fact sheet about your institution or state that you can leave behind.
  3. Be brief. Respect the busy schedules of representatives and their staff. A typical appointment might be about 20 minutes. Do not overstay your allotted time.
  4. Follow up. After your meeting, write a note to the representative and the aides with whom you met. Thank them for their time, and reiterate why student aid is so important to you.

Call, Email, or Write Letters. The simplest way to contact your member of Congress is to write a letter, send an email, or make a call to their office. Because it is the simplest way to contact a member of Congress, a variety of constituents send mass emails and letters and jam phone lines. Letters, emails, and calls should be brief, concise, and neat. State your message clearly at the start (''I'm contacting you because I want you to support continued funding for federal student aid"). Then, most importantly, give the details of your personal story (''I am attending college today because of the federal student aid I receive"). Keep it short, and don't forget to provide your contact information. You can find contact information for your member of Congress here: Find Your Representative in the U.S. House of Representatives and Contact Information for U.S. Senators.

The Student Aid Alliance has developed a Write Your Legislator tool to automatically submit emails to your members of Congress on the importance of student aid.

4. Hold an Event

Consider holding an event on your campus or in your community in support of student aid, such as a rally, a town hall, or forum. Whatever event you plan for your campus, make sure it generates media attention, delivers the message to Congress, and involves diverse groups. Congress won't hear one voice, but it will hear a coalition of voices in support of student aid. Together we can send our message from around the country, loud enough to be heard on Capitol Hill. Only you can decide what events will work best on your campus. Be creative in devising ways for people to show Congress how important student aid is to them. Visit our Holding an Effective Rally in Support of Student Aid page for more suggestions.

Publication Date: 8/2/2017

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