Washington Watch: ‘Workforce Pell’ an AACC priority, Bumphus says

AACC President and CEO Walter Bumphus (far left) participates in a higher education CEO panel discussion at the Higher Education Government Relations Conference in Washington, D.C. (Photo: AACC/Jim Hermes)

Enrollment declines, community college to four-year university transfers and human resources are some of the challenges facing community colleges, says Walter Bumphus, president and CEO of the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) — but he notes that he prefers to think that many of these are “headwinds” rather than permanent challenges.

Bumphus provided the overview on Thursday during a panel discussion among higher education association leaders at the Higher Education Government Relations Conference (HEGRC). AACC is a sponsor of HEGRC, which is a professional development event for government relations professionals and others interested in advocacy from public institutions of higher education.

Bumphus was joined on the panel by the CEOs of two of the other associations that sponsor HEGRC: Mildred Garcia from the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, and Mark Becker from the Association of Public & Land-Grant Universities.

The association leaders addressed the challenges and opportunities facing higher education in the policy arena and beyond, as well as the importance of effective advocacy. Bumphus noted the Equity Transfer Initiative that AACC leads in partnership with the other two associations as an example of how they are working to address these challenges.

Support for Pell

Political issues may be more of a challenge. There is “bipartisan agreement that higher education is broken,” but the two political parties differ on the solutions, Becker said.

All three CEOs said that the strong, bipartisan support for Pell grants was an opportunity to make progress towards doubling the maximum Pell award. Bumphus also stressed that Pell Grant eligibility for short-term programs, or “workforce Pell,” was a top AACC priority. Garcia voiced general support for short-term Pell but noted that the “devil is in the details” and expressed concern over the potential impact of short-term Pell on students’ lifetime eligibility for the program.

The panelists noted the importance of higher education institutions to educate policymakers on how they can help the country with pressing issues, particularly their role in preparing a skilled workforce. In response to a question about controversies in various states about critical race theory (CRT) and similar issues, the leaders stated that higher education must educate policymakers on what CRT is and is not so the policy debate can proceed on a factual basis.

About the Author

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