2017 National Legislative Summit Review

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. 

J. Noah Brown
©2017 Keith Weller for ACCT

“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.”

Community College Priorities from ACCT on Vimeo.

“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 Public Policy Jennifer Stiddard told NLS attendees. 

Opening General Session from ACCT on Vimeo.

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. 

Journalists Ashley A. Smith of Inside Higher Ed and Michael Stratford of Politico Pro participated in a panel later in the day and offered their perspectives on a wide range of issues facing community colleges.

Tuesday General Session from ACCT on Vimeo.

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 and AACC leadership with Senator Roy Blunt (center left)
©2017 Keith Weller for ACCT

On Wednesday,  ACCT and AACC presented Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO) with the National Education Service Award. Jon Bauer, President of East Central College in Missouri, introduced Senator Blunt, who spoke at length about the value of community colleges and his work on issues impacting community colleges in Congress.  

“In the appropriations bill - that we still have a chance to do this year - for the year that ends on September 30th, my colleagues and I put return to Year-Round Pell in that bill,” said Senator Blunt. “That particularly matters to people at your schools, it particularly matters to people who are going to school on their own, people who are the first person in their family to graduate from college, people who’ve returned to school as an older student. If you get this system working for you…the less you can do to disrupt that, the more likely you are to have students that graduate. That’s why Year-Round Pell matters.”

Senator Blunt was elected to the United States Senate in 2010. He serves as the Vice Chairman of the Senate Republican Conference. He also serves on the Senate Appropriations Committee; the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee; and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. He is the Chairman of the Senate Rules Committee and Chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education.

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.

Luke Messer (R-IN)
©2017 Keith Weller for ACCT

“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 of 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. 

Charlie Dent (R-PA)
©2017 Keith Weller for ACCT

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.

Tammy Duckworth (D-IL)
©2017 Keith Weller for ACCT

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.”

Bobby Scott (D-VA)
©2017 Keith Weller for ACCT

Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) noted that the proposed America's 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.”

Joe Wilson (R-SC)
©2017 Keith Weller for ACCT

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.

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos
©2017 Keith Weller for ACCT

The 2017 National Legislative Summit concluded on Wednesday with U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos speaking at her first public address to a national higher education association.

"I've been on the job as Secretary of Education just over a week," DeVos said, "and while the title and office are new the work is not at all new to me. My passion and actions have been to help improve educational opportunities for students and parents for nearly three decades. And while some have characterized the flurry of attention around my confirmation in negative terms, I've viewed it as expressions of passion. Passionate parents and passionate advocates who care deeply about their kids and about education. I applaud it, and I know the same kind of passion drives all of you."

Secretary DeVos also recognized the role community colleges have in preparing students for in-demand jobs and looks forward to working together to advance community and technical education in America.

Download the 2017 community college legislative priorities "green sheet" and backgrounder.

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Community College Insights & Perspectives

ACCT Now is the go-to resource for issues affecting community colleges. In addition to reporting and research, you’ll have access to of-the-moment legislative updates. We’ve also included articles, reports, and research from outside sources that benefit the ACCT community.

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