By NASFAA Policy & Federal Relations Staff
As part of February’s Advocacy Pipeline, NASFAA hosted three members — Lucy Candal-Fernandez from Montclair State University, Emily Grant from Fairleigh Dickinson University, and Kimberley Willis from the College at Brockport State University of New York — to engage in virtual meetings with congressional staffers on Capitol Hill from New Jersey and New York.
The congressional offices included Reps. Mikie Sherrill (D-N.J.) and Joe Morelle (D-N.Y.), and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). NASFAA members highlighted an array of timely issues for the financial aid community, such as the elimination of origination fees and the confusion those fees cause for students and parents. They discussed doubling the maximum Pell Grant award, restoring the automatic inflation adjustment for the Pell Grant, shifting Pell to full mandatory funding, and extending Pell Grant eligibility to Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) students. Lastly, NASFAA members shared their concerns that the 2024-25 FAFSA may not be released on Oct. 1, 2023 and the importance of financial aid offices receiving timely information from the Office of Federal Student Aid (FSA) to adequately help students through the application process.
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.
Kimberley Willis, Director of Financial Aid, The College at Brockport State University of New York:
I am honored that I was asked to participate in NASFAA’s Virtual Advocacy Pipeline. However, I was a little reluctant to participate at first being new to the financial aid world (just under three years). When I emailed Nalia Medina, in an effort to decline, she assured me that my perspective was valued and they would make sure I was fully equipped with all the necessary information to address what I was most passionate about — doubling Pell Grants!
This experience stretched me out of my comfort zone, but I am so elated that I was convinced to participate. NASFAA staff made the process very comfortable through their communication, timely organization of the meetings, and reassurance that we as financial aid professionals need to be heard because we are the ones helping students on a daily basis.
The experience exceeded my expectations in that although I was nervous, once it was my turn to speak, I was excited to do so, and I almost did not want to stop. The meetings went smoothly and the staffers were engaging and willing to learn about any subject matter that was unfamiliar. I knew I had a short amount of time to speak, so I covered the most important talking points as quickly as I could. If I had to give any tips to anyone who would be interested in participating in the future, I would tell them to trust that NASFAA will make sure you are prepared. Also, remember this is not about you — it’s about our students and their future, which is for the greater good of our country.
Although I was reluctant to participate at first, I am so happy that I did it! I felt like I was a voice for our students advocating on their behalf. What I had to say may not have been a new idea, but it was my first time saying it, and hopefully one day I will see it come to fruition. Then I can say, “My voice mattered.”
Lucy Candal-Fernandez, Associate Director of Financial Aid, Montclair State University:
Most of us who work as financial aid administrators and in higher education know how much satisfaction — and sometimes frustration — comes with our career. Participation in NASFAA’s Advocacy Pipeline surely ranks in the satisfaction column for me. Our meetings with legislative aides from various congressional offices were well organized, collaborative, and rewarding.
The pipeline meetings provided an opportunity to collaborate with colleagues from the New York and New Jersey metropolitan region and exchange thoughts with attentive legislative staff who appeared genuinely interested in learning about the issues we brought to their attention. They asked pointed questions and referenced current legislative actions, which could favor or hinder the progress of the topics discussed.
I would encourage other financial aid professionals, both new and experienced, to consider participating in future Advocacy Pipelines. Personally, I felt empowered by the experience despite having no assurance of the outcome of the topics at hand. My advice to all financial aid administrators and to future participants is to become involved in your profession, stay informed of legislation, be engaged in discourse, and stay positive and optimistic about the future of higher education.
Emily Grant, Campus Director of Financial Aid, Fairleigh Dickinson University:
Participating in the Advocacy Pipeline was definitely a step or two outside of my comfort zone! As financial aid administrators, we are accustomed to talking with students, parents, and college administrators, but this felt like something completely new. NASFAA staff made the whole process very easy and were there every step of the way making us feel more comfortable and prepared.
I was surprised at how willing the staffers we spoke with were to engage with the issues we raised. I was specifically interested in talking about FAFSA simplification and the anxiety schools are feeling as the 2024-25 academic year creeps closer without a lot of clarity on the process or timeline. During more than one of the calls, we were offered to reach out to their contacts at FSA for information and clarification. I hadn’t expected that level of engagement.
It is so easy to feel removed from and jaded by the political process, but participating in the Advocacy Pipeline helped me to feel more involved and empowered. I would absolutely recommend you give it a try if you haven’t before!
Publication Date: 3/14/2023
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