Financial Aid Professionals Reflect on 2021-22 NASFAA Advocacy Pipeline

By Hugh T. Ferguson, NASFAA Senior Staff Reporter

During 2021-22, NASFAA continued its Advocacy Pipeline efforts with the latest cohort of financial aid professionals meeting virtually with congressional staffers. Participants discussed a wide range of timely issues including doubling the maximum Pell Grant, improving student loan repayment, and simplifying R2T4.

As NASFAA prepares for 2022-23 Advocacy Pipelines, which will include some in-person Hill visits after a stretch of only virtual events since the onset of the pandemic, we’d like to take a look back at some of our member advocacy from the 2021-22 cohort to help members get a sense of what the pipeline program looks like.

NASFAA held five virtual pipelines during the 2021-22 year, beginning with the Graduate/Professional advocacy pipeline in December 2021 where aid professionals from the graduate/professional community met with staff of four members of Congress — representing their home states and districts — including Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) and Reps. Kathy Castor (D-Fla.) and Barbara Lee (D-Calif.).

Four additional pipeline events were held in 2022, during which members met with staffers from the following offices:

  • Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández (D-N.M.)

  • Rep. Adrian Smith (R-Neb.)

  • Sen. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.)

  • Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.)

  • Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa)

  • Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.)

  • Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.)

  • Rep. Cynthia Axne (D-Iowa)

  • Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.)

  • Rep. Dan Bishop (R-N.C.)

  • Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.)

  • Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.)

  • Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.)

  • Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-Del.)

We asked several of the 2021-22 participants to share their thoughts and takeaways on their advocacy pipeline participation. Read on to learn about their experiences, and fill out this interest form if you would like to participate in an Advocacy Pipeline event.

Joan Bailey, Director of Financial Aid, University of South Florida Health

I have had the opportunity to advocate for our students on Capitol Hill two previous times, so I was a bit uncertain how doing so virtually would work and if our efforts would be as impactful. I must say there was no need for this uncertainty.

The graduate and professional advocacy virtual visit was a success from the planning to the execution. Before the visit, NASFAA’s policy team provided us with a wealth of information and resources. We had a pre-meeting where we were able to narrow down the main points we wanted to hit on and who would take the lead on each topic. We were encouraged to share personal stories of the students we work with daily to help to build our case. I found that having these examples helped the staffers to understand the issues that we raised.

In our meetings, we discussed issues relevant to graduate and professional populations of student aid recipients, such as the elimination of loan origination fees, the restoration of graduate student eligibility for subsidized loans and lower graduate interest rates. We also addressed the issues of simplifying loan repayment and improving income-driven repayment (IDR) plans, and the need to preserve and strengthen the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program.

I encourage you to get involved, whether at the state or national level. You will find it rewarding to know that you might have some impact on the future legislation affecting our students. It is a great opportunity to advocate on behalf of our students. I would not hesitate to encourage my fellow colleagues to get involved and volunteer to participate in the NASFAA Advocacy Pipeline. I must also say that the greatest upside to doing a virtual Hill visit was that I didn’t have to run from office to office or from building to building. If you have ever visited Capitol Hill to advocate in person, you will understand how great it was to be able to move from one meeting to the next without getting those additional steps in (no matter how much we need them.)

Amanda Prashun, Director of Public Interest Financial Support, UC Berkeley School of Law

This was my first time participating in one of NASFAA's Advocacy Pipelines and I found the experience really rewarding.I oversee our loan repayment assistance program, and other initiatives for public interest law students and graduates. Every day I work with these populations to help them navigate the complicated world of IDR and PSLF. After seeing my students experience the same problems over and over, I had lots of stories and recommendations saved up, but was looking for an outlet to voice my concerns.

The advocacy pipeline was the medium I was searching for. It was gratifying to be able to share my students' concerns and my personal observations about IDR and PSLF with lawmakers who have the ability to make changes to some of these programs.

I recommend that any financial aid administrator with stories about these federal programs sign up for the advocacy pipeline. Decision-makers need to hear from students, borrowers, and those who serve to learn; we have personal experiences with the errors, loopholes, and problems associated with our federal financial aid and student loan systems.

Keri Gilbert, Director of Financial Aid, Stephens College

I thoroughly enjoyed my NASFAA Advocacy Pipeline experience! It is always empowering to speak with those who can impact our work so directly and (hopefully) spark change that benefits our students and our profession. I found our conversations with the legislative staff to be affirming and felt our concerns and suggestions were being heard. Although the pipeline visits were held over Zoom, we were still able to connect with the legislative staff — connections I hope to be able to draw on later when sharing the importance of a piece of legislation or how a policy change could impact my students.

I felt supported during the entire pipeline process. We were able to select the topics we wanted to talk about — the things we were passionate about sharing with those on the Hill. In addition to chatting about increasing the Pell Grant and eliminating those pesky loan origination fees, we spoke about simplifying the R2T4 process and increasing institutional flexibility. I think we were all surprised to see the interest legislative staff took in the R2T4 process (and while one accidently called it R2D4, at least we didn’t get a R2-D2)! Just giving a quick taste of the complexities in this one process raised quite a few eyebrows. Increasing institutional flexibility also seemed to garner quick support and positive vibes. Under that topic, we crammed in a couple points such as allowing institutions to limit borrowing for certain programs as well as increasing the transfer cap on campus-based aid programs.

I would encourage all NASFAA members to volunteer to participate in a future advocacy pipeline! It was a great experience from beginning to end and I am grateful NASFAA has continued to offer this opportunity to its members — even if it looks a bit different than in years past!

Brandi Miller, Assistant Director of New Student Programs, Drake University

I am the President of the Iowa Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (IASFAA) and have worked in Student Financial Planning for over 20 years. I attended the NASFAA Legislative Leadership and Expo Conference on February 14-16, 2022, in Washington, D.C, and participated in person for the Visit the Hill Day. It was my first time in D.C. and my first visit to the Hill. 

When the opportunity to be part of a recent NASFAA Advocacy Pipeline became available, I jumped at the opportunity to participate. This visit to the Hill was virtual, so I did not have to leave my office. NASFAA provided everything needed in advance, including a pre-meeting to help us prepare. I felt equipped and supported through the whole process.

We discussed doubling the Pell Grant, getting rid of loan origination fees for all federal student loans, having more flexibility with campus-based funds, and complications of R2T4. I felt like our meetings were informative and productive.

My experience was empowering, and I felt that the things I shared could get some traction. My favorite part about the experience was feeling heard; you too can be heard. To those who may be interested in being part of a future NASFAA Advocacy Pipeline, I suggest you do it and do not be intimidated. The staffers are people just like we are; remember, we are the experts in our work as financial aid administrators. 

It was a great experience and very much worth my time. I am interested in participating in future NASFAA Advocacy pipelines and speaking with representatives in my state legislature.

Zilma Lopes, Director of Financial Aid & Veteran Services, Robeson Community College

My favorite part of the advocacy pipeline experience is the advocacy part itself. Getting our voices heard in this profession is key to the continued success of the Federal Student Aid program (FSA) and who better to provide it than the financial aid administrators who are working with the students and these programs day in and day out.

Our main topics for discussion included: doubling the maximum Pell Grant; issues concerning student loans, which touched on eliminating loan origination fees and modifying the structure of loan limits; campus-based aid, which concerned revising the allocation formula and shifting to a voluntary rather than required community service for the Federal Work Study (FWS) program; as well as reducing administrative and regulatory burden.

My advice for other financial aid administrators who may be interested in participating in future advocacies is to just put yourself out there and go for it. Complete the advocacy pipeline interest form on the NASFAA website and just do it.  

Joey Derrick, Director of Financial Aid and Scholarships, University of South Carolina

My experience with NASFAA’s Advocacy Pipeline was outstanding! I enjoyed the interaction with legislative staff, and because the meetings were virtual, we were able to schedule quite a few in one day, with no travel needed, and could easily present data and supporting documents visually. I was particularly pleased with the positive interactions with legislative staff, even if they did not necessarily agree with our recommendations. We discussed the need for increasing the Pell Grant, eliminating the verification process, student loan challenges, and regulatory burden. In each case, legislative staff were eager to hear our thoughts on these subjects and in many cases, learned something new.

NASFAA did an outstanding job in scheduling the meetings, organizing the talking points, and moderating the interactions. I highly recommend this experience to any financial aid professional looking for a chance to discuss important aid-related topics with legislators and their staff, and perhaps step outside of their regular circle of professional relationships and interactions. Try it. You won’t regret it!

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If you're interested in volunteering to be a part of NASFAA's Advocacy Pipeline, fill out an interest form here.

 

Publication Date: 8/24/2022


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