Financial Aid Professionals Reflect on Their Most Recent 2023-24 Virtual Pipeline

By NASFAA Policy & Federal Relations Staff

Last month, NASFAA hosted two financial aid administrators for its annual Graduate/Professional community Advocacy Pipeline. The NASFAA members — Melet Leafgreen from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and Calaundra M. Clarke from the Southern University Law Center  — 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 four meetings with various congressional offices: Rep. Jasmine Crocket (D-Texas), Rep. Troy Carter (D-La.), Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), and Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.). NASFAA members touched on a wide range of legislative issues, such as eliminating student loan origination fees and restoring subsidized loan eligibility for graduate and professional students. During their meetings pipeline participants discussed the Protecting Our Students by Terminating Graduate Rates that Add to Debt (POST GRAD) Act, which was formally reintroduced by Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.) in October 2023 and is supported by NASFAA. NASFAA member Calaundra M. Clarke also had the opportunity to discuss the experience of being a financial aid administrator at a Historically Black College and University (HBCU). 

We asked the two Advocacy Pipeline participants to share their thoughts and key takeaways from their time advocating for graduate and professional issues with congressional staff. Read on to learn about their experiences, and fill out this interest form if you would like to participate in an Advocacy Pipeline event.

Melet Leafgreen, Director, Student Financial Aid, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center: 

Given the way that politicians are sometimes portrayed, an experience like this always reminds me that there are servants of the people working in our nation’s capital. It’s easy to feel disillusioned sometimes with how our democracy works and what’s wrong with it. But the staffers we spoke to were genuinely interested in hearing our thoughts. It was refreshing to hear someone in a position of influence really curious about what we do and how students are impacted. 

I would recommend that any financial aid administrator with significant experience take this opportunity when it’s offered. Let’s be honest: speaking with congressional staff is outside everyone’s comfort zone the first time they do it – but it’s so worth it. My university has its own government affairs & policy office, and after this experience I will be much more likely to suggest items to them for inclusion in our institutional legislative agenda. 

Another thing that surprised me was how much support NASFAA provided that made the experience so easy. I didn’t have to schedule or coordinate anything. NASFAA even provided talking points that I could use if I wanted to. It was so empowering to have things like references to regulations, Dear Colleague Letters, and legislative bill numbers in front of me because I didn’t have to spend any time finding that information. 

As an employee at a state institution, I am prohibited from lobbying or advocating on behalf of my institution. When I spoke with the legislative staff they understood that I was not speaking on behalf of anyone, just a concerned private citizen with expertise and experience that could be of help to their understanding.

Calaundra M. Clarke, Associate Vice Chancellor of Financial Aid Services, Southern University Law Center:

I enjoyed participating in the Advocacy Pipeline to assist with NASFAA's advocacy efforts. By participating in this day, I was able to serve as a voice for students, particularly graduate and professional students, and highlight some of the issues impacting the law students at my institution. 

Initially, I was hesitant because my volunteerism has been on a different scale in the past, but I am glad that I accepted the charge. NASFAA did an excellent job in reviewing expectations and detailing the overall flow of the day, ensuring we were comfortable with discussing our topics by providing talking points, setting up the meetings, and facilitating the Advocacy Pipeline. 

The congressional staffers  were engaged and even asked us questions so that we could better assist them in understanding our concerns and the role they could play in supporting our efforts. This was a great experience and hopefully more financial aid administrators will get to participate in the Advocacy Pipeline initiative. 

 

Publication Date: 2/20/2024


Heather B | 2/20/2024 9:22:59 AM

Thank you for sharing the concerns of our graduate/professional sector with staffers! I appreciate you both, as well as NASFAA.

Cecilia G | 2/20/2024 8:20:08 AM

Melet and Calaundra - thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to represent our students and advocate for their options. Removing the origination fee would encourage more graduate students with good credit to use the federal option which will help them in the long run.

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