2019 Community College National Legislative Summit

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February 10, 2019 to February 13, 2019

The 2019 Community College National Legislative Summit kicked off Monday with discussions focused on the complexity of the policy landscape faced by institutions--and reminders that policy alone won't address the growing needs of America's students.

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"This work requires the effective integration of federal, state, and institutional policies, individual student attributes-and a little magic," Brian A. Sponsler, vice president of policy and director of postsecondary and workforce development for the Education Commission of the States, told attendees during the opening keynote address. "We're not one policy away from enacting dramatic changes in student success...the interconnectedness of all of these different levels influences [success]."

The policy landscape continues to evolve at all levels. As community college leaders converged in Washington amid unresolved funding issues and the possibility of a second government shutdown, they were urged to advocate for a series of critical federal community college priorities during visits to Congressional leaders this week. Legislative priorities for 2019 include expanding access to Pell Grants for short-term programs and for incarcerated individuals, as well as other changes in the $30 billion program that reflect the needs of today's nontraditional students, said Jennifer Stiddard, ACCT director of government relations.

The changing nature of higher ed also should be a driving factor of ongoing efforts to reauthorize the Higher Education Act (HEA), NLS speakers said. Community college leaders also were urged to support students impacted by the ongoing issues involving the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) immigration policy, such as continuing efforts to pass legislation such as the DREAM Act.

At the state level, the 2018 elections continued to accelerate the shift towards one-party control of the governorship and both houses of state legislatures, Sponsler told attendees.  With workforce development and other higher education areas becoming top-tier issues for state policymakers, this shift opens the door for movement in areas such as skilled trade and apprenticeship programs, better alignment of programs with workforce needs, and issues involving college affordability and financial aid.  

"It's about the maturation of ideas that have been on the policy agenda for some time," Sponsler said. "It's about taking things to scale, refining them, and adjusting to unintended consequences."

Along with policy issues, ACCT President & CEO J. Noah Brown stressed the importance of advocating on a more personal level, including focusing on the challenges of working and parenting that nontraditional students often face, as well as the research which has shown the prevalence of homelessness, hunger, and mental health issues on community college campuses.

"Think about the communities where you live and you work and the boards that you sit on and the people that you represent," Brown told attendees. "And I want you to remind Congress that we serve a huge swath of individuals of different ages, different backgrounds, different abilities, and most importantly, a plethora of challenges that many of us cannot even imagine. I want you to tell Congress that it's not that our students face as many academic barriers as they face life barriers. Please speak from the heart--speak about your communities and speak about the people you've met along the way and how we have lifted so many dreams of so many people and will continue to do so."

Also Monday, NLS attendees received updates on the status of HEA reauthorization from a bipartisan group of Congressional staffers and discussed the state of national politics with leading national policymakers and journalists. Focused policy sessions addressed basic needs insecurities among community college students, Second-Chance Pell Grants for incarcerated students, and the student's role in effective advocacy. 

In partnership with Strada Education Network, ACCT also released two new papers that address how urban and rural community colleges can support educational attainment among men in their communities.

This morning, the Department of Education's Deputy Assistant Secretary for Community Colleges Casey Sacks and Office of Career, Technical and Adult Education Assistant Secretary Scott Stump will discuss the department's priorities for community colleges and the Carl D. Perkins Career & Technical Education Act, and this evening we will present the 2019 National Education Service Awards.

Education Department Officials, Lawmaker Call for Large-Scale Changes to Higher Ed at NLS

Leaders of the U.S. Department of Education and a key Democratic Representative signaled the growing bipartisan desire for dramatic change in the higher education landscape during the final two days of the National Legislative Summit. 

“Education is the least disrupted part of America’s economy,” Scott Stump, the assistant secretary for career, technical, and adult education at the U.S. Department of Education, told NLS attendees during a session on Tuesday. “You, as community colleges, are central to that… you are the most nimble part of the education system, and we need for you to be more nimble.”

Change was a theme echoed by Rep. Susan Davis (D-Calif.)  during Wednesday’s closing keynote session. “A chance to reauthorize [the Higher Education Act] doesn’t happen every year,” Davis told attendees. “We don’t want to waste this moment by passing a bill that only changes at the margins or worse, sets things back.”

Stressing the importance of workforce development efforts, Stump pointed to the Trump Administration’s investments and research supporting apprenticeship and other career education programs.

“There’s lots of energy going on in this space, and lots of places for community colleges to take the lead in establishing systems,” Stump said. “You are such a unique microcosm that exists only here in the United States, and we must take advantage of that. And I will tell you that this administration is squarely behind you.”

Casey Sacks, deputy assistant secretary for community colleges, told NLS attendees that the Education Department also wants to expand its pilot of Second Chance Pell, which has reinstated federal aid for incarcerated individuals taking courses at more than 30 community colleges nationwide.  “It’s something we’re seeing a lot of bipartisan support for, which is exciting,” Sacks said, adding that it would likely be included in HEA reauthorization. “Without access to Pell, it’s really hard for our institutions to be able to offer programs and services in a prison environment.”

During her keynote session, Davis argued that Congress needs to step up and provide the kinds of support that community colleges need. 

“For years, community colleges have shown us how to reach out to first generation students,” she told attendees. “Now it’s our job in Congress to match your success by finally providing resources for the important work that you do.” Speaking to strong support for expanding the federal Pell Grant program and making it more flexible, Davis added, “we think this is finally the environment that we can make it possible.”