Underrepresented Student Advocacy is Full Speed Ahead in 2018

February 14, 2018

NCAN’s MorraLee Keller and Kim Cook, Florida College Access Network’s Laurie Meggesin, and College Crusade of Rhode Island’s Maria Carvalho met with U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos at the FSA Training Conference. 

By Kim Szarmach, Communications Intern, and Carrie Warick, Director of Policy

NCAN and our members have been busy in recent months supporting federal and state-level policies that help underserved students access and succeed in higher education, from fighting for Dreamers and FAFSA simplification to making a case for more and better-targeted state funding.

This work has included a significant amount of face time with key federal officials. At the Federal Student Aid Training Conference late last year, NCAN Executive Director Kim Cook joined staff from Florida College Access Network and The College Crusade of Rhode Island in a meet-and-greet with U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. And in another memorable moment last month, the NCAN membership was represented at a Senate education committee hearing on reauthorizing the Higher Education Act. In written and oral testimony, uAspire Chief Policy Officer Laura Keane conveyed to lawmakers the troublesome experiences of our students with the current financial aid system including the before and after of the financial aid award letter process, underscoring the need for FAFSA simplification to reduce summer melt. Previewing research that uAspire is conducting with New America to analyze student aid award letters, Keane shared the jaw-dropping statistic that of 454 letters, the Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loan was referred to in 143 unique ways, including 26 that didn’t use the word "loan."

In addition to working to expand access to financial aid, NCAN and our members have been advocating heavily for the protection of Dreamers. When the Trump Administration rescinded the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in September, thereby giving Congress a six-month deadline to devise and enact a permanent solution for Dreamers, NCAN rallied our members to join the fight for these students by contacting their elected representatives (nearly 400 messages had been delivered as of Monday). College Forward, College Success Foundation and the Florida College Access Network are among our members across the country advocating for policy solutions and reinforcing their support for Dreamers at this trying time. The U.S. Senate is now debating bills that could provide immigration relief for DACA recipients and other Dreamers. Thus, this is a good week to continue to share stories about your DACA and Dreamer students and also to contact your U.S. Senators – especially by phone – to express support for the Dream Act.

Also in the last few months, NCAN significantly expanded our resources designed to help members inform their state’s higher education policy. Our Model State Policy Agenda, recently finalized from the draft version and reflecting member input, aims to provide NCAN members and partners, particularly those in networks or coalitions, with a guide to develop their own policy goals. We also released the first two of five installments of our state policy toolkit: one exploring a Focus on Need-Based Aid, and another explaining ways to Establish a State Higher Education Funding Strategy. The toolkit provides examples of effective policies and programs to help organizations shape their state policy advocacy strategy. Each installment topic is derived from NCAN’s model agenda and is categorized under either “affordability” or “talent development.” Watch for the remaining three parts to be released between now and May.

As 2018 gets well underway, NCAN looks forward to ensuring the voice of the college access and success community is heard in national and state-based policy discussions. Be on the lookout for more resources to help your organization strengthen its advocacy work – and if you’re not an NCAN member, join today to enjoy the broader range of member benefits!

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