Earlier this month we were joined by more than 70 student affairs professionals for the second NASPA Hill Days in recent years. More than a simple fly-in advocacy day, the 2019 NASPA Hill Days experience provided training and practice in civic engagement for student affairs professionals at all levels from new professionals to vice presidents. Through the late summer and fall, participants engaged with NASPA policy and advocacy and civic learning and democratic engagement staff to build a strong foundation of knowledge. SA advocates learned about key public policy issues, their Congressional delegations, and techniques for engaging in advocacy to prepare them for their visits with Congressional members and staff in early December.
More than 70 student affairs professionals representing 28 states and the District of Columbia convened in DC. Our advocates participated in 96 meetings, 55 meetings on the House-side and 42 on the Senate-side. Participants went above and beyond to work in as many meetings as they could! #SAadvocates used their professional experiences, stories, and data to connect real students and their circumstances to the policy proposals under consideration in Congress as part of on-going discussions to reauthorize the Higher Education Act (HEA), provide protection and support for Dreamers and clarify Congressional direction to the Department of Education about institutional responsibilities related to Title IX.
July - November: Advocacy Training & Meeting Preparation
The NASPA Hill Days experience used a fly-in approach that focused heavily on providing attendees a unique professional development opportunity. Learning to engage with elected officials is an important skill to fill out a successful student affairs professional’s toolbox, but there are few opportunities to practice the skill first-hand. To deliver a more practical experience, NASPA Hill Days started provided training and tools to participants in July to help them learn the process for engaging with elected officials effectively. Throughout the late summer and early fall, participants used NASPA’s Online Learning Community to complete sessions that introduced them to the basics of engaging in advocacy in public policy, summarized the primary issues of focus for their meetings with their elected officials, and provided basic information and background on the Members of Congress.
Most 2019 NASPA Hill Days participants were placed in teams with others from their state, though several were working with teams from two or more states. Each team included three to six student affairs professionals representing various levels of leadership in higher education. The diversity in the teams allowed for groups to prepare a wide range of talking points regarding the topical issue areas they would discuss with their Congressional delegations on behalf of NASPA. In November, we began scheduling meetings, with constituents reaching out on behalf of their team directly to their members’ offices.
December 2 & 3: Arriving in DC
NASPA Hill Days kicked off our in-person event at the Grand Hyatt in Washington, DC. NASPA Vice President for Research and Policy, Dr. Amelia Parnell, welcomed everyone and acknowledged the many indigenous tribes who originally held the land that now houses our nation’s capital. Dr. Kevin Kruger, NASPA President, then treated everyone to an overview of top issues facing student affairs professionals and the higher education industry, setting the perfect tone and backdrop for the work of the coming days.
Tuesday started a full day of skill-building to prepare #SAadvocates for their Capitol Hill visits. Experts in higher education policy and government relations from the association community set the framing for the day through a robust conversation regarding the current federal policy landscape. Panelists included John Aguilar, Executive Director of Legislative Affairs, Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU), Kayla Elliott, Senior Policy Analyst for Higher Education, The Education Trust, Sarah Spreitzer, Director of Government and Public Affairs, American Council on Education (ACE), and Carrie Warick, Director of Policy and Advocacy, National College Access Network.
The panelists spoke passionately about what brought them each to their respective work on the Hill and their higher education policy priorities. Sprietzer spoke to the priority that HEA reauthorization should “do no harm” to today’s students. Aguilar pointed to the need to support the 66% of Latinx students currently attending Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs) through passage of the Fostering Undergraduate Talent by Unlocking Resources for Education (FUTURE) Act, and financial aid eligibility for Dreamers. Warick backed up Aguilar’s point adding that along with financial aid eligibility, all marginalized students deserve a streamlined Free Application for Student Aid (FAFSA) verification process. All four panelists highlighted the importance of college affordability, and Elliott underlined Education Trust’s stance that students should not have to take on debt to afford education, suggesting that doubling the Pell Grant program would be a step in the right direction to achieve this goal.
Staff from the House Committee on Education and Labor covering higher education policy also spoke off-the-record with Hill Day participants, offering insight and suggestions for making their visits with legislators effective and efficient. One key piece of advice we can share from their comments publicly: when you meet with elected officials or their staff, always follow up!
Just before lunch, a panel of Hill Days Mentors - participants from the 2018 NASPA Hill Days who returned for a second year - began preparing participants with tips and scripts for how to make the most of their time with their elected officials the following day. Over lunch and throughout the afternoon, participants met with their teams to discuss and develop specific asks for each of their meetings and considered strategies to secure commitments from their elected officials on issues where legislation is currently pending.
The day wrapped up with a walking tour of Capitol Hill led by NASPA’s graduate intern, Lauren Reliford, who brought truly insider knowledge to tips for getting around the Hill from her time working as a lobbyist!
It has been a great day and a half with @NASPAtweets here in D.C. preparing for #NASPAhilldays. Very excited for tomorrow and our Congressional meetings. Ready to advocate for our students and our field. #SAAdvocates #highered #SApro pic.twitter.com/yLLEHkfVo6— Harold Fields (@HFIELDS33) December 4, 2019
December 4: Lights, Camera, Action!
As early as 8:30 am, 70 participants headed to the Hill for coffee appointments or events with their elected officials. Throughout the day, participants engaged with their delegations informal scheduled meetings and even some chance encounters in the halls of Congressional office buildings. Participants had a chance to emphasize the importance of student affairs and explain how the student affairs profession offers a unique constituent perspective in both its proximity to the needs of students and its necessity to the core functionality of the higher education community as a whole. In several instances, elected officials or congressional aides expressed an acute interest in learning more about NASPA, student affairs, and the topics covered.
Today, I had the privilege of meeting with members of @NASPAtweets! I’m pleased to have organizations, like #NASPA, that are focused on centering students in the evolution of higher education! 📚 pic.twitter.com/txXUqxwJfJ— Alma S. Adams (@RepAdams) December 4, 2019
Thank you to @SenatorTimScott for the photo opp and time with your top notch staffer, @AlauraErvin, to discussion Higher Ed priorities on behalf of @NASPAtweets. Your SC constituent, @margaretpottah, @dbubrig and I appreciate it! #SAadvocates #NASPAHillDays pic.twitter.com/NlMzvd4SLX— UM-DOS-Marsh (@marsh_brent) December 7, 2019
Thanks to @RepRickLarsen for meeting with our @NASPAtweets #saadvocates today to talk about HEA Reauthorization! We’re looking forward to your support for #todaysstudents ! #naspahilldays #naspa pic.twitter.com/HfwbGqscvc— Heather N. Werckle (@MsHeatherNW) December 4, 2019
An opportunity of a lifetime. 7 meetings, 2 senate offices and 5 congressional offices. What a day what a day. #SAadvocates #BlackEducator #CapitolHill #workworkwork #DACA #highered #TitleIX pic.twitter.com/rQThBhCkef— J. E. Mazyck, Ed.D. (@jmbeyond7) December 5, 2019
It was a full day with some teams working in meetings with as many as seven different offices throughout the day. Several teams scheduled additional meetings on-the-fly while they were already in DC! While many participants had to leave as soon as their meetings were finished, some were able to reconvene later in the day for an informal debrief, swapping stories of their varied experiences throughout the day at the Cure Bar & Bistro in the Grand Hyatt.
While it’s unlikely that NASPA will host a Hill Day event in 2020 due to the timing of the election and other NASPA events, we encourage you to check out our session on Hill Days at the 2020 NASPA Annual Conference where you can learn more about the event from the participants themselves, and keep an eye out for the next opportunity to participate in 2021!