Financial Aid Professionals Highlight Impact of COVID, Importance of Relief Funds in Virtual Advocacy Pipeline

By Owen Daugherty, NASFAA Staff Reporter

NASFAA is continuing its Advocacy Pipeline efforts amid the ongoing pandemic, hosting three financial aid directors hailing from Indiana to meet virtually with lawmakers from the Hoosier State to discuss how COVID-19 has impacted operations and highlight the importance of federal relief to provide students with emergency aid grants.

The three NASFAA members — Alex DeLonis of Wabash College, Doug Hess of Purdue University Fort Wayne, and Gina Pirtle of Indiana University Northwest — also touched on the need to double the maximum Pell Grant award, eliminate existing loan origination fees, and the importance of reforming the current student loan repayment landscape in their discussion with lawmakers. 

The aid directors on March 18, 2021 met with staff of five members of Congress representing their home state and districts, including Republican Sens. Todd Young and Mike Braun, and Reps. Jim Baird (R), Frank Mrvan (D), and Jim Banks (R).

We asked the advocacy pipeline participants to share their thoughts and takeaways. Read on to learn about their experiences, and fill out an interest form if you would like to participate in a virtual Advocacy Pipeline.

Alex DeLonis, Director of Financial Aid, Wabash College

My favorite part of the advocacy pipeline experience was having the opportunity to do the virtual hill visits alongside financial aid administers and NASFAA staff who share the same passions that I do. This truly made the experience even more enjoyable. We were able to feed off of each other’s energy, and provide support and feedback along the way.

Our top priorities were articulating the need for COVID-19 relief funds and doubling the Pell Grant. We also discussed the need to eliminate loan origination fees, the importance of campus-based aid, and student loan repayment reform. It was very interesting to see where each conversation went based on the congressional staff members' experience. Some were very knowledgeable on the topics we presented and had great questions, or even challenged us on certain topics depending on where they stood on the issue. Others weren’t as familiar with the issues — allowing us to build their knowledge base.

My advice for other financial aid administrators who are interested in participating in future Advocacy Pipeline events would be this: do it! You won’t regret it. It is one of the most rewarding things that you will do in your financial aid career. Remember that you are the expert. Use your knowledge and expertise to advocate for others who do not have the opportunity. 

Gina Pirtle, Director of Financial Aid and Scholarships, Indiana University Northwest

Seeing as how all of the financial aid administrators who participated represented Indiana, we were able to speak on issues that were unique to our state. The impact of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act and Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF) funding, doubling the Pell Grant, increasing campus-based aid funding, and the elimination of student loan origination fees were just a few of the many subjects discussed.

I enjoyed being able to speak to the staff of members who did not vote in support of the most recent rounds of HEERF funding. I was passionate about advocating not only for the students in need of the emergency grants, but also for colleges and their budgets. It was important for me to express how the HEERF funds have helped prevent furloughing staff and also helped to retain students as we continue to navigate this pandemic, as well as share that college applications and FAFSA submissions are down double digits compared to last year for many colleges and universities. 

Another common theme throughout our conversations was urging the doubling of the Pell Grant. The Pell Grant program has maintained bipartisan support for years, and we discussed how doubling the maximum grant amount would go a long way in reducing student debt.

I would definitely participate again because even with the most difficult subject matter, we were able to express our thoughts as financial aid administrators and advocate for all students.

Doug Hess, Director of Financial Aid, Purdue Fort Wayne

When I first received an email to participate in the Advocacy Pipeline, I was taken back by the request as I was unsure of the work that would need to be done to make this happen, but rest assured that NASFAA does a wonderful job of making arrangements and preparing you for the meetings. I enjoyed being able to meet with staff from both of our Senate offices, as well as three of our state’s representatives. 

As I mentioned earlier, NASFAA does an excellent job of preparing you for these meetings and I found that all the congressional aides were easy to speak with and I felt they had a genuine desire to hear what the financial aid community had to say. During our discussions, we spoke about several items, such as doubling the Pell Grant and coronavirus relief funding, and we also learned that one of our senators had introduced legislation to eliminate student loan origination fees earlier that day. I would recommend anyone who is interested in the Advocacy Pipeline to volunteer — it was a wonderful experience.


For more pictures from the event, check out NASFAA's Advocacy Pipeline Facebook album. If you're interested in volunteering to be a part of NASFAA's Advocacy Pipeline, fill out an interest form here.


Publication Date: 4/20/2021

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