The Value of Student Advocacy

More than 20 students from Portland Community College travelled to Washington, D.C. to attend the 2019 National Legislative Summit.

As vital as community college trustees and presidents are to advocacy efforts, students make compelling advocates for community college priorities. They have the life experience that, when communicated to elected officials, has a tremendous ability to impact state and federal policy. The 2019 National Legislative Summit (NLS) saw an exceptional student turnout from Portland Community College (PCC) in Oregon, with over 20 students making their ways across the country to advocate for themselves and their institutions on Capitol Hill. 

At PCC, students got a lot of practice advocating before they made their way to Washington, D.C. Their advocacy roots began in student government, which all student-attendees from PCC participated in. After getting involved with student government, students practiced their federal pitch by advocating at the state level. 

“We make sure that our students have a lot of practice lobbying their state elected officials,” said Emma Kallaway, director of government relations at PCC. “We’re able to do that quite a bit throughout the fall term, so coming to an ACCT event or meeting with congressional representatives is not as intimidating. They’ve practiced telling their story.”

In terms of creating a list of priorities, students are mostly self-sufficient. They work with each other—and student government faculty advisors—to decide what issues they think their time is best spent on. Although PCC is spread out among four campuses, each campus has its own representation through student government and students convene on a regular basis. Frequent meetings consume a significant amount of a student’s limited time, but in an effort to foster a diverse student government, students who serve are paid an hourly rate.

For community colleges looking to increase participation in student government, Kallaway suggests making sure students are advocating for issues they are passionate about. At PCC, those issues are Title IX and the DREAM Act. It’s also important for student government to be visible on campus. Before new students can get to work advocating, they must first be familiar with where student government is located and how to get involved. On each of PCC’s four campuses, the student government office is centrally located. 

PCC is like most community colleges in that funds are not infinite and traveling cross-country to the Nation’s Capital takes a significant amount of time and effort. However, PCC students agreed that attending NLS would be a priority and worked hard to make the trip a reality. Students fundraised to cover the cost of airfare and opted to stay in a hostel to avoid the cost of a hotel.  

Both ACCT and PCC place a high value on student advocates. Students’ stories often make the most compelling case for members of congress to support ACCT’s legislative priorities

Students who come to Washington attend the NLS at a discounted rate. For more information on the National Legislative Summit, visit ACCT’s website

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