This August, connect with your legislators

As your advocates in Washington, my colleagues and I rarely miss an opportunity to point out how vitally important an engaged membership is to achieving our legislative goals.

While we work closely day in and day out with legislative staff, agency officials and others to inform them of our perspective on various policy issues, it is often input from local constituents that secures a legislator’s support for a given position. That is why a big part of our jobs is to keep community college leaders informed about the latest policy developments and to galvanize your support for our legislative agenda. Recently, we created an advocacy toolkit to help them do just that.

In fact, the AACC Competencies for Community College Leaders states that “an effective community college leader understands, commits to, and advocates for the mission, vision, and goals of the community college on the local, state, and national level.”

Federal impact at home

Historically, and understandably, much of the community college leader’s focus has been on the state and local levels, but a number of factors have led to greater community college engagement at the federal level. Declining state support for community colleges, and the resultant increased reliance on tuition revenue, have underscored the importance of federal student aid programs and other sources of support.

The increased impact of federal regulations on college campuses has also makes national advocacy crucial. And it has borne fruit, as member advocacy in recent years was crucial to the reinstatement of the year-round Pell grant and reauthorization of the Perkins career and technical education legislation.

The congressional August recess presents a great opportunity to maintain (or establish) relationships with your elected officials. They are usually in their home districts for an extended period of time, though only the House took the normal, month-long recess this year (the Senate returns to Washington next week after only a one week recess). So even with summer vacations and gearing up for the coming fall term, there is likely to be time to meet with them, preferably on campus so they can learn more about how your institution is serving their constituents.

On the top of the list

August recess is also an important time because your legislators will be returning to Washington after Labor Day to face a panoply of issues before the end of the year. At the top of the list each year is the annual appropriations process. While Congress is further along with the funding bills than it often is at this time of year, much work remains to be done. In all likelihood, they will need to pass at least one continuing resolution to keep the government open after the fiscal year ends on September 30.

Federal funding also tops AACC’s agenda for items that Congress is likely to address by the end of this year. The House and Senate appropriations committees have passed their respective versions of the FY 19 Labor, HHS and Education appropriations bills, and there are gains to be had in both of them. When meeting with your legislators over the August recess, funding should be talking point one:

  • Final LHHS appropriations legislation should include the best elements of the House and Senate versions of the bill, including a $100 boost to the Pell Grant maximum; increases of $115 million and $25 million, respectively, for career and technical education and adult basic education; increases for the Higher Education Act Title III and Title V programs; and increased funding for DOL workforce training programs.

One item not likely to see congressional action before the midterm elections at the least is the fate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and a path to citizenship for Dreamers. However, action in the courts in the coming weeks, which could potentially end the DACA program, may ratchet up the pressure on Congress to do something.

Community college leaders should continue to insist that Congress take action, regardless of the outcome in the courts:

  • Pass legislation to provide a path to citizenship for Dreamers, who were brought to this country as children through no fault of their own. Only Congress, and not the courts, can provide the solution these individuals deserve.

Finally, though passage of a Higher Education Act reauthorization bill won’t happen this year, the legislation is so important to community colleges and complex that it is important to keep educating your legislators about the many crucial issues at stake, including needed reforms to the Pell Grant and loan programs, the undesirability of risk sharing, and more.

AACC thanks its members for making their voices heard on these and other important issues.

About the Author

Jim Hermes
is associate vice president of government relations at the American Association of Community Colleges.