Field Notes: Ready… Set… Advocate! 2019 AACRAO Hill Day

June 25, 2019
  • Advocacy
  • Advocacy Center
  • Hill Day
Faded blue background photo of Capital Hill with the words "AACRAO Advocate, 2019 Congressional Hill Day" displayed next to a headshot of Bianca Thompson-Owen

"Field Notes" is a regular AACRAO Connect column covering practical and philosophical issues facing admissions and registrar professionals. The columns are authored by various AACRAO members. If you have an idea for a column and would like to contribute, please send an email to the editor at

by Bianca Thompson-Owen, MA, Assistant Dean for Enrollment Management and Academic Success, School of Health Professions - Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey

One of the most important responsibilities that we hold as higher education professionals is the ability to advocate for policies and legislation that support accessibility and affordability for students. Most of us serve on a variety of university and school-wide committees that implement and assess public policy that impact the success of students. As AACRAO professionals, we are often called to serve our respective institutions as the resident expert on higher education public policy and legislation. Without vacillating, we campaign for a myriad of causes that impact students because we understand that it has a direct correlation to student persistence and success. 

Although we have made substantial strides in aiding our institutions with understanding and promoting higher education legislation, more work is needed. AACRAO Hill Day is a unique and prestigious opportunity for AACRAO professionals to meet with legislators to advocate for a variety of higher education issues. I was fortunate to have been selected to participate. This event provided AACRAO professionals with an opportunity to meet one on one with senators and representatives and also encouraged civic engagement. As a first-time attendee, here is my account of my experiences. 

In order to ensure that Hill Day was a success and that members were properly prepared, AACRAO staff went above and beyond the call of duty. The day began with ‘Insights on Higher Education’ lead by Michael Stratford, Education Reporter at Politico. Stratford provided an overview of eminent and emerging issues in higher education that legislators are currently working to address, including the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act and federal education funding, among many others. It was interesting to learn that Stratford credits AACRAO for receiving his first promotion at Cornell University as the editor of the Cornell Daily Sun. The promotion came after he was able to confirm a FERPA violation with Leroy Rooker at AACRAO. 

The morning continued with a panel discussion on ‘How to Meet with Congressional Offices’ moderated by William Gil, Director of Government Relations at AACRAO. The panelists included Lauren Marshall, Legislative Assistant to Senator Mark Warner (D-VA); Josiah Boman, Legislative Assistant to Representative Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-MO); and Michael Black, Legislative Assistant to Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA). The goals of this panel were to offer advice about engaging congressional members and their assistants, strategies to maximize meeting time, and a candid overview into navigating the complex halls of Capitol Hill. I found this panel particularly insightful. 

Finally, before we were sent off to advocate, we were provided with a simulation meeting. This mock meeting helped members understand how to interact with congressional offices. As a first-time attendee, this was perhaps the most important component of the morning. During the simulation, I learned helpful tips to re-engage a disengaged congressional member and to keep the dialogue positive and flowing. Additionally, all AACRAO members were provided with a folder to give to each congressional member. This folder included pertinent information from AACRAO as well as key issues that AACRAO currently supports.  

Advocacy Meetings
AACRAO members were partnered by states and/or regions to meet with congressional members. I was fortunate to be partnered with my colleague Steve Smith from Adelphi University. As the door opened for our first congressional meeting, I felt a lump in my throat, my palms were sweaty, and my thoughts were racing. Admittedly, I was nervous; however, I was eager to champion the cause for AACRAO, but most importantly for students. 

Throughout the day, my partner and I met with the following congressional offices: Jasmin Palomares, Legislative Aide for Senator Kirsten E. Gillibrand (D-NY), Nia Lesesne, Legislative Aid for Senator Cory A. Booker (D-NJ), The Legislative Manager for Representative Joseph D. Morelle (D-NY-025), and Alexander Krupnick, Legislative Assistant to Donald W. Norcross (D-NJ). 

The meetings ranged from 15-30 minutes and were all conducted in a congressional office space. I was also able to briefly champion the advocacy cause of AACRAO with Senator Robert (Bob) Menendez (D-NJ) while on Capitol Hill at a gift shop. My partner and I discussed a variety of advocacy priorities from AACRAO with each congressional member. The highlights of these priorities include: The Higher Education Act reauthorization, FERPA policy updates, FERPA electronic records, the support of increased PELL and other federal funding programs, the Reverse Transfer Credit Efficiency Act, and the Dreamers Act and Secure Act.

Hill Day ended with a reception for congressional members and AACRAO Hill Day advocates. During the reception, I had the opportunity to discuss the experience of Hill Day with several colleagues. The theme was consistent: the day was successful and provided AACRAO members with an opportunity to make a difference in the legislative landscape of higher education. 

In summation, AACRAO Hill day was a tremendous success with 53 advocates conducting over 100 meetings with congressional leaders. But the work does not stop here, we must continue to keep our eyes focused on legislation that impact higher education and be ready to campaign for the cause. Hill Day attendees were encouraged to do follow-up letters and emails to congressional members as well as submit evaluation surveys to AACRAO for further action. 

Hill Day has re-energized my spirit of civic engagement. I am inspired, optimistic, and ready to advocate on behalf of our students.  



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