The 2017 Community College National Legislative Summit Begins With Calls for Continued Advocacy

February 16, 2017
NLS general session

The 2017 Community College National Legislative Summit kicked off with calls for continued advocacy as a new administration arrives in Washington.

“This is a time for optimism, a time to think about what is possible, and a time to do the work we’re capable of doing,” ACCT President & CEO J. Noah Brown told attendees during Tuesday’s keynote luncheon. 

“As community colleges, we have worked very well with Republican administrations and Democratic administrations, and I’m very confident we are going to have a good relationship with this new administration,” added Walter G. Bumphus, AACC president and CEO. “We have a lot to offer… but more than ever we’re going to need all of you in the room to take the message to the Hill.” 

The chancellors of two of the nation’s largest state community college systems also participated in a roundtable discussion of the challenges facing the sector. “Make sure your beliefs are in policy,” Nancy L. Zimpher, chancellor of the State University of New York, urged community college leaders. “You have to act.”

“Eight years of the Obama administration gave community colleges the opportunity to come out from under the rocks and show what we do,” said Eloy Oakley, chancellor of California Community Colleges. “The new administration is going to give us the opportunity to show we can lead as a national system of community colleges focused on moving this country forward.” 

That sense of optimism carries over to the community college legislative agenda. Despite the continuing expectation of limited opportunities for additional funding, ACCT and AACC leaders see a possibility to reinstate key components of Pell Grant funding that were chiseled away in recent years, year-round Pell chief among them. The Pell Grant program’s current $10 billion surplus and bipartisan support represent an opportunity to regain funding and benefits from previous cuts, ACCT Director of Government Relations Jennifer Stiddard told NLS attendees. 

Beyond Pell, the more challenging budget outlook in FY 2018 and beyond means that “it’s going to be a particularly important year to justify our priorities,” Stiddard said.  However, the Trump Administration’s proposed infrastructure plan represents a potential opportunity for community colleges to make a case for job training programs in high-demand fields connected to large projects, she added.

Other legislative priorities include the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act and the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act, both of which continue to move forward in Congress, as well as proposed legislation that would maintain the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program put into place by an executive order during the Obama administration. 

Also Tuesday, attendees attended policy forums on accreditation, student loan accountability, the student’s role in effective advocacy, and developing effective board-CEO and board-board relationships. 


ACCT Congressional Forum Highlights Bipartisan Support for Community Colleges

Congressional leaders in education and workforce issues offered bipartisan agreement on support for community colleges when they spoke to at ACCT’s 2017 Congressional Forum Wednesday.

“This should be an extraordinary time of opportunity,” said Rep. Luke Messer (R-Ind.)  “What you’re going to see from policymakers is an effort on encouraging innovation.” Messer cited reverse transfer, partnerships with industry, and the use of Pell Grants for shorter job-training programs as examples of community college programs likely to receive support from lawmakers. 

Pointing to apprenticeships and other job-training programs offered by community colleges, Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.)  signaled bipartisan support for the Pell Grant program, despite the current climate in Washington. “There’s always going to be a certain amount of gridlock, but when that partisanship leads to paralysis, we’re going to have problems,” he said.

Democratic speakers spoke to continuing Obama-era efforts to make community college free for qualified students.  Citing the lack of a skilled workforce as the biggest challenge to global competitiveness, Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) discussed college promise programs, as well as a proposed grant program that would support job-training partnerships with industry.

“I think this is a great solution to the skills gap,” Duckworth said. “It allows community colleges to further strengthen themselves and expand their services, but also expand our national competitiveness.”

Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) noted that the America College Promise program would cost $100 billion—an amount that pales in comparison to multi-trillion dollar tax cuts enacted by Congress in recent years. “Make no mistake, this will cost money—money that some say we can’t afford,” Scott said. “It’s just a matter of priorities… We can do all these things, we just have to have the courage to do them.”

Despite partisan rancor, Scott predicted that Congress would ultimately succeed in reauthorizing the Higher Education Act. “I am optimistic we can come together as HEA reauthorization approaches,” he told Forum attendees. “It will be important for your institutions to engage both sides of the aisle so we continue to support community colleges.”

Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) echoed the bipartisan support community colleges enjoy, noting the impact they have had on the automotive industry in South Carolina. He predicted that the House Committee for Education and the Workforce, led by former community college president Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) will continue efforts to scale back the federal government’s role in higher education. “However we can promote local flexibility and control, we will,” Wilson said.