Advocating for Higher Ed

August 8, 2022
  • AACRAO Leadership and Governance
  • Advocacy
  • Professional Development and Contributions to the Field
Close up of the U.S. capitol with United States Flag in front.

By Michael Bilfinger, AACRAO Communications Intern.

AACRAO’s 2022 Congressional Hill Day took place last month on July 21 – 22, 2022. During the two-day annual event, 33 AACRAO Advocates from across the nation met with nearly 75 Congressional offices to advocate for the association's legislative priorities. While advocating on behalf of our members is part of the government relations work that AACRAO regularly does, Hill Day is still a critical event because advocacy is most effective when it comes from the individuals on the ground directly impacted by policies. By offering the opportunity for members to enhance their advocacy skills by meeting with legislative offices, AACRAO hopes to amplify our impact on Capitol Hill and give members the experience to advocate for their students at their home institutions. In the words of Bill Gil, Director of Government Relations, AACRAO:

You, as constituents, can have a much greater impact than us as individuals here in DC as you are able to explain how legislation will impact individuals on a local level.

Another significant factor that helps make advocacy more effective is knowing what to expect and arriving prepared. To this end, AACRAO provided training materials, including an on-demand Federal Legislative Process and Advocacy 101 course (open to all members) and a prep session for Advocates before the two days of meetings with Congressional offices. The prep session included instructions on what to expect, the difference between advocacy and activism, navigating difficult conversations, what issues are a priority for the association, and talking points and one-pagers to present these issues effectively. This year, AACRAO wanted to focus on three main issues: 

  • Doubling federal Pell grants to help keep college affordable.

  • Changing the language of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) to apply to third-party record collectors and correcting the 2012 regulatory amendments that expanded FERPA to a detrimental extent.

  • Urging legislators to support the Reverse Transfer Efficiency Act. This bipartisan, bicameral bill allows the sharing of student information between institutions to help them identify students who have earned enough credits for an associate’s degree but haven’t received one for various reasons. 

Although AACRAO strives to prepare Advocates for their meetings and support them to our fullest, this is still no guarantee that the meetings will go well or result in immediate change. In addition, AACRAO prepares advocates for the reality that not every Congressional office they meet with shares their perspective and that often, change happens slowly. Nevertheless, AACRAO is beginning to see results from our Advocates’ efforts. For instance, shortly after one meeting, AACRAO Advocate Pheng (Max) Xiong, University Registrar, University of Hawai’i at Manoa, learned that the legislator agreed to co-sponsor the Reverse Transfer Efficiency Act. In an email sharing the good news, Max stated:

I just heard great news that, based on my conversation . . . [the Senator] is signing on to co-sponsor the reverse transfer bill (S. 2379). This made my day since I wasn't 100% sure what I was doing. Thank you … AACRAO, for this opportunity to advocate for AACRAO and our students.

AACRAO member, Ken Pawlowski, also shared his experience with Congressional Hill Day, saying:

I really enjoyed Hill Day and hope to do it again. You, Michelle, and Bill have been so good and supportive in the whole process. Greatly appreciated and well done! I really enjoyed the prep and two meetings I had. Hope to do it again.

While applications to be an Advocate for the 2023 AACRAO Hill Day aren’t open yet, please visit our website to learn more and to join the email list to stay up to date with Hill Day. In the meantime, you can also check out AACRAO’s advocacy center to see how you can support our federal policy issues.