Last month, NASFAA hosted three members in Washington, D.C., for in-person meetings with congressional staffers on Capitol Hill as part of the October Advocacy Pipeline. Participants in those Hill visits — Katy Weisenburger from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, John Curl from Utah Valley University, and Austin Haynes from Alverno College in Milwaukee, Wisconsin — gave voice to a wide range of financial aid policy issues impacting both their students and respective institutions at large.
The three members shared their perspectives on the Pell Grant program, including extending Pell Grant eligibility to Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) students and doubling the maximum award. The pipeline participants also discussed loan-related topics such as lowering interest rates, eliminating loan origination fees, and simplifying existing repayment plan options. As a part of these meetings, NASFAA members also shed light on recent issues surrounding the community’s partnership with the Department of Education (ED), reiterating many of the challenges NASFAA outlined in a letter from this August.
We asked several Advocacy Pipeline participants to share their thoughts and key takeaways from their time on Capitol Hill. Read on to learn about their experiences, and fill out this interest form if you would like to participate in an Advocacy Pipeline event.
Katy Weisenburger, Assistant Director of Federal Awards, the University of Wisconsin-Madison:
The NASFAA Advocacy Pipeline was an awesome experience! Being in Washington, D.C., made me feel like I am really part of the legislative process and reminded me how important our elected officials are in making the laws and regulations that affect our students and our communities. I loved being able to interact with legislative staff and other financial aid professionals to discuss important issues related to our profession. To my relief, meeting with legislative staff in D.C. was very similar to meeting with legislative staff in our own state capitol. Each office that we visited was reflective of that legislator and showcased their state.
During the meetings, we discussed multiple issues affecting the greater financial aid community. Our group advocated for doubling the federal Pell Grant, granting eligibility for the federal Pell Grant to DACA students and restoring the automatic inflation adjustment for federal Pell Grant. We discussed strategies that could help the federal student loan program such as lowering interest rates, restoring subsidized loan eligibility to graduate students, eliminating interest capitalization, and simplifying repayment plans. Eliminating origination fees on federal student loans was the topic that garnered the most discussion between our group and legislative staff at each office. Lastly, we discussed the relationship between the financial aid community and ED. It was exhilarating to discuss federal policy and issues that our community faces every day with legislative staff!
If you’ve ever had interest in visiting with legislative staff, you should strongly consider volunteering with NASFAA’s Advocacy Pipeline, or attending NASFAA’s Leadership and Legislative Conference. I had a wonderful experience for so many reasons. Washington, D.C., is a beautiful city with lots to see and delicious food to enjoy. NASFAA’s Nalia and Rachel were wonderful hosts who made our day easy, fun, and impactful.
Austin Haynes, Assistant Director of Financial Aid, Alverno College:
This was my first time participating in the NASFAA Advocacy Pipeline. This experience is one that will last in my heart. I have been working in higher education for 12 years, and the one thing that I’ve learned in all those years is everything I do, I do it for the students. Being able to bring my students' voices to the decision makers was very rewarding and empowering.
It was great to feel heard, and NASFAA let the financial aid administrators take the lead on this. It was nice to be able to pick a few topics we are passionate about and to feel supported during the meetings.
For any financial aid administrators thinking of joining the pipeline, I say go for it. I can only hope for more opportunities like this in the future.
John Curl, Director of Financial Aid and Scholarships, Utah Valley University:
My favorite part was meeting and interacting with all the people involved, which included NASFAA staff, fellow financial aid professionals, and the congressional staffers. Each person was very professional and accomplished. I expected the experience to be insightful as it relates to the inner workings of the legislative process, but I did expect more questions and resistance from the congressional staffers. The scope of responsibilities/knowledge each staffer needs to manage for their member of Congress was a bit mind blowing. Their ability to absorb and share meaningful data elements to their members of Congress is very impressive. Many of them have done this for years.
I felt each meeting took on its own personality. All of them seemed to go well and we were well received. This goes to show how well-respected the staff at NASFAA is. We discussed items related to Pell (Double Pell, Pell for DACA students, and restoring the automatic Pell increase), loans (lowering interest rates/resorting subsidized eligibility for graduate students, eliminating origination fees, and eliminating capitalized interest/simplifying loan repayment), and improving the communication between ED and campus partners.
For other financial aid administrators who are interested in participating in future Advocacy Pipeline events, I think it is helpful to learn what issues each member of Congress has focused on in the past. Additionally, if they are meeting with a staff member, it is helpful to know a bit about their background as well. This advocacy pipeline experience has given me confidence to engage with them on items that concern me, I doubt that I will hesitate to contact them with my opinion in the future.
If you're interested in volunteering to be a part of NASFAA's Advocacy Pipeline, fill out an interest form here.
Publication Date: 11/16/2022