Financial Aid Administrators Reflect on the First Virtual Pipeline of 2023

In January, NASFAA hosted its first Advocacy Pipeline of 2023. Three NASFAA members — Wendy Ortega-Garrett from California State University Office of the Chancellor, Jennifer Achan from Bakersfield College, and Cecelia Jones from Jarvis Christian University — participated in virtual meetings with congressional staffers on Capitol Hill.

The virtual pipeline day entailed meetings with four different congressional offices: Rep. Robert Garcia (D-Calif.), Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.). NASFAA members shared their perspectives on some timely financial aid issues, including the benefits of doubling the maximum Pell Grant, the importance of increased funding for historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), the authority to limit borrowing, reforming loans and repayment, and the need for Federal Student Aid (FSA) to clearly and thoroughly communicate its implementation and training schedules if the FAFSA will not be released as it has traditionally been on Oct. 1, 2023.

We asked the three Advocacy Pipeline participants to share their thoughts and key takeaways from their time advocating 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.

Wendy Ortega-Garrett, Associate Director, California State University Office of the Chancellor:

Participating in the NASFAA Advocacy Pipeline was a wonderful experience. I greatly appreciated getting the opportunity to share the concerns affecting students attending a California State University. Contributing to change and advocating for students across the country with legislative staff who were both interested and proactive was enlightening. I appreciated their interest in serving students now and in the future.

I was initially worried that the partisan divide over student loan forgiveness would overshadow the issues we were presenting to the legislative staff. Access to affordable higher education is a subject that centers the needs of the student and sets aside politics. Staff on both sides of the aisle were receptive, interested, and supportive of our agenda. It was also refreshing to speak with staff from both freshmen representatives who are driven to help our country’s students, as well as seasoned members who are already action-driven.

I greatly encourage other financial aid administrators to get involved in the NASFAA Advocacy Pipeline. I loved the opportunity to partner with colleagues from both the community colleges and from historically Black colleges and universities (HBCU). Participating in the Advocacy Pipeline was also an opportunity to reflect on what steps our university system can take to advocate for our students with our state’s government.

Cecelia Jones, Director of Financial Aid, Jarvis Christian University: 

As a first-time participant in NASFAA’s Advocacy Pipeline, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I am a director at a historically Black institution and was glad to advocate for HBCUs. We shared our concerns regarding continued support for HBCUs and their importance, as well as doubling the Pell Grant, eliminating loan origination fees, implementing FAFSA simplification, and reauthorizing the Higher Education Act. Knowing the challenges your students face day-to-day helps guide the conversation.

I was hesitant to meet with the staffers, but was pleasantly surprised by their knowledge and interest in legislation regarding higher education. They not only received information from us, but shared information valuable to financial aid offices.

The day would not have been successful if it weren’t for the NASFAA staff. The staff prepared us for the virtual visits from planning to execution. They provided resources to assist us in discussions that were extremely helpful. I strongly encourage other financial aid administrators to volunteer for the NASFAA Advocacy Pipeline. We must advocate for students and institutions at all levels. One never knows the impact they may have to change legislation.

Jennifer Achan, Executive Director of Financial Aid & Scholarships, Bakersfield College: 

Immediately after I was invited to participate in the Advocacy Pipeline, I was nervous and overwhelmed with the expectation and preparation of meeting with congressional staffers regarding federal issues. As a financial aid administrator, the wealth of knowledge I possess is functional, informational, and practical — not political. Quickly, I was relieved due to the support and resources received from NASFAA. The preparation meetings were informative and built my confidence to converse with ease.

Participating in the Advocacy Pipeline virtual meetings was a professional awakening experience. I was excited to meet and converse with congressional staffers regarding important financial aid topics. The staffers were engaging and knowledgeable regarding loan fees, doubling Pell Grants, and timely FAFSA simplification updates. The concerns of the financial aid administrators were expressed and received by the staffers with attentiveness and interest. The opportunity to have direct access to our congressional representatives established a connection and cohesiveness to tackle federal issues.


Publication Date: 3/2/2023

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