Last month, NASFAA hosted three financial aid administrators for its annual Graduate/Professional community Advocacy Pipeline. The three NASFAA members — Portia Gilmore from Northwestern University (Chicago Campus), Mesha Garner from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, and Joan Bailey from the University of South Florida — engaged in virtual meetings with staffers on Capitol Hill and focused on the financial aid policy issues specifically related to their graduate/professional students.
The pipeline consisted of five meetings with various congressional offices: Rep. Danny K. Davis (D-Ill.), Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.), Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). NASFAA members touched on a wide range of legislative issues, such as lowering interest rates and restoring subsidized loan eligibility for graduate and professional students, preserving graduate access to the Direct Loan program, eliminating all instances of interest capitalization and loan origination fees, and simplifying loan repayment. Participants also spoke on the importance of preserving and solidifying the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program.
We asked the three Advocacy Pipeline participants to share their thoughts and key takeaways from their time advocating for graduate and professional issues 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.
Mesha Garner, Financial Aid Director, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville:
While I have attended Hill visits during NASFAA’s annual Leadership & Legislative Conference & Expo, I didn’t know what to expect during the day of meetings, but I was pleasantly surprised at how well the day went.
Before the day of the pipeline, NASFAA staff asked us what we felt comfortable discussing and asked for our input. They also provided a library of resources to help guide our conversations. We met with legislative staffers from five different offices. Each staffer was incredibly engaging, asking questions to deepen their understanding of our stance as professionals and as an organization. I honestly believe that I felt heard during the day and that there was a level of understanding on how complex financial aid administration has become and the burden it has on our students.
If there is a topic that you are comfortable discussing, I encourage you to participate in NASFAA’s Advocacy Pipelines. In particular, the virtual pipeline can minimize the stress that comes with traveling from office to office throughout a day. Your voice is just as impactful as if it was in person. I also had the opportunity to connect with other NASFAA members. Taking the chance to communicate with people who support our government officials is a priceless experience.
Joan Bailey, University of South Florida, Director at the USF Health Office of Financial Aid:
I have had the opportunity to advocate for our graduate and professional students on Capitol Hill two previous times in person. This is now my second time doing so virtually and I must say I consider the virtual experiences just as powerful as in person. In fact, I think we got to interact with more offices in a shorter timeframe than if we were in person.
The virtual Advocacy Pipeline was a success, from the planning to the execution. We worked with NASFAA staff to prepare for this Hill visit. They were very supportive and provided us with a wealth of information and resources. 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 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 plans, and we also discussed the need to preserve and strengthen PSLF.
I found the staffers were very receptive to the information we were sharing, and we could tell from the questions they asked that they were engaged and taking notes. They would even ask us for specific information regarding pending bills when we mentioned that there might be pending legislation that they could support. More than one staffer admitted that the issues that we were discussing were personal to them, especially the issue of simplified repayment plans and PSLF. Some staffers also asked us about additional information that they could review — and that is at least a step in the right direction.
I would not hesitate to encourage my fellow colleagues to get involved and volunteer to participate in the NASFAA Advocacy Pipeline. Whether advocating at the state or national level, it is rewarding to know that you might have some impact on the future legislation affecting our graduate and professional students.
Portia Gilmore, Assistant Director of Financial Aid, Northwestern University Chicago Campus:
My favorite part was just being invited to the pipeline and advocating for students and hoping that our concerns were felt by the congressional staffers enough to take them back to the legislators they worked with. It was more than I expected. I was nervous at first, but my fellow financial aid administrators started the conversation and then from there, it just flowed. I was surprised at the reactions of some of the staffers that really weren’t aware of some of the issues we mentioned, like the cost of loan origination fees and the impact they have on the actual amount borrowed and the overall capitalization of interest.
I’d say the meetings went well. My part of the discussion focused on simplifying the existing repayment plans. Mainly, it was to get the staffers to consider consolidating the nine repayment plans that are in place now to just three plans (a single income-driven repayment plan, a standard 10-year repayment plan, and an extended 25-year plan) so that the process is easier for the students.
A tip that I have for other financial aid administrators who are interested in participating in future Advocacy Pipeline events is to be passionate about being an advocate. It really helps to care about the issue.
Publication Date: 12/19/2022
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