Earlier this month, NASFAA members from Rhode Island and Oregon institutions traveled to Washington, D.C. to meet with congressional staff members on Capitol Hill to discuss pressing issues in student financial aid. Topics of discussion included reducing federal student loan origination fees, issues related to income-driven repayment plans, and flexibility in award notifications. They met with staff members from four congressional offices who serve senators and representatives from their respective states. We asked the pipeline participants to share their thoughts and takeaways. Read on to learn about their experiences.
I had the opportunity to participate in the NASFAA Advocacy Pipeline [earlier this month]. I've worked as a financial aid administrator in many capacities and at several institutions and have attended many NASFAA conferences through the years. While I’ve known about the advocacy pipeline program for some time, I was hesitant to participate; what more did I have to share that others had not already done?
My experience turned out to be a very positive one, very productive. A financial aid administrator from the University of Portland also came to D.C for the program. We were encouraged to bring forward issues that were most important to the students that we serve. The NASFAA representative, Stephen Payne, directed the visit, meeting with us initially to explain the day ahead and review timely financial aid topics and legislative proposals. He asked for our input and this was included in our discussions during our visits. Throughout the day, he was there to catch any trips and falls or gaps in our knowledge of current legislative proposals. He was knowledgeable about the inner workings of the Senate and House of Representatives and made each visit meaningful for both of us in the program. I was able to address my specific issues with each of the representatives we met.
Currently, I manage the financial aid programs for medical students at the Alpert Medical School at Brown University; my issues were about federal loan programs. I asked them to consider reducing the origination fees currently being charged on federal loans, especially the Federal Graduate PLUS loan. I discussed the complexity of the repayment plans that students have to navigate and the hefty penalties borrowers can experience if they make mistakes, for example miss the deadline for verifying income in an Income-Driven Repayment (IDR) plan.
Overall, I was encouraged to speak about specific issues that I wrestle with in daily service to my student population and felt that my voice was heard. It was an empowering feeling of accomplishment. I appreciate NASFAA's hosting of a program that provides those of us out in the field with a voice.
Portland, Oregon to Washington, D.C. and back again in 36 hours. Whew! I’m tired! But the opportunity to advocate for student financial aid on Capitol Hill was worth the trip. Each staffer was welcoming and attentive to the concerns we presented during our meeting.
The two main issues I chose to advocate for were funding for student aid programs and flexibility in award notifications. We also discussed loan origination fees, the high cost of borrowing, and the burden and complexities in the student loan repayment programs. NASFAA provided important guidance and talking points for our meetings. I appreciate the work that NASFAA does on behalf of our students and value the opportunity to be part of their advocacy efforts.
One highlight for me was Rep. Suzanne Bonamici’s collection of pennants from Oregon colleges and universities on the wall in her office. This display was a clear demonstration of the value she places on higher education. She and Sen. Jeff Merkley also had pieces of the Portland International Airport carpet in their offices (#PDXcarpet), which says nothing about student financial aid, but was a pretty great representation of what it means to be an Oregonian. Overall, it was a fast but fantastic trip—one that I hope to repeat in the future with a little more time on the ground to catch my breath.
Publication Date: 5/28/2019