Each year, as we prepare for the National Legislative Summit (NLS), I consider the cost/benefit analysis of this 3,000 mile trek to our nation’s capital to advocate on behalf of our students and our 72 districts.
Is this a wise use of League resources? Will our lobbying efforts actually bear fruit? Will the California delegation of trustees and CEOs benefit from the experience?
Naturally - like so much else in education - the verdict largely depends on the criteria employed to measure the questions posed.
Using quantitative measures and comparing this year’s convening with those of the last few years, the 2018 NLS was a success. We had close to 100 Californians present at the League’s breakfast, attending the Conference, and lobbying in the Capitol. Our numbers were significant enough for delegates from other states to complain about California’s ubiquity (which of course has the opposite of the effect intended and increases the likelihood we’ll bring even more next year).
Although I don’t have a specific numerical count of the number of meetings the California delegation had with Members of Congress and Staff, it was clear from anecdotal reports and the number of times we ran into one another on the Hill that we were out in force.
Therefore, at a minimum, California Congressional Members and their Staff heard from several community college leaders that the increased liability for unearned financial aid (Title IV Funds) in the House version of the Higher Education Act Reauthorization Bill would contravene our mission and unfairly cut our operating resources; that a clean DACA bill is imperative for our students, their families, and our college colleagues; and that reduced oversight and expectations of for-profit institutions would leave families vulnerable and jeopardize federal and state resources.
Yet, is the proper measure of the worth or success of the 2018 Washington, D.C. trip the size of the California delegation and subsequent success or failure of our legislative priorities?
I don’t believe it’s mere post-hoc rationalization to conclude that this annual trip to the nation’s capital serves important purposes beyond direct advocacy to our federal lawmakers.
Other useful functions of the annual National Legislative Summit for California community college leaders include:
- Increased understanding of federal higher education policy and processes;
- Relationship-building with California Congressional Members and Staff;
- Relationship-building with fellow California community college leaders;
- Greater understanding of California community college’s place within the national higher education ecosystem.
Although the aforementioned benefits aren’t quantifiable, they arguably strengthen our leadership capacity and therefore advance our institutional mission of serving students and our communities statewide.
Will the final Higher Education Act Reauthorizations Bill include a return to Title IV provision? Will Congress finally pass meaningful DACA legislation? Will the California congressional delegation vote and advocate to support California’s and the nation’s largest public system of higher education?
Although as of this writing the answer to these questions remain unknown, (and therefore we must continue our advocacy until such decisions are rendered), what is clear is that the almost 100 California community college leaders recently returned from the NLS in Washington, D.C. have significantly increased their understanding of the federal role affecting our colleges, and likely have greater familiarity with and stronger relationships with their colleagues statewide. Both of these important outcomes support the efficacy of the annual journey to The Swamp.