Craig Karlin (Co-Chairperson for Governmental Relations) and Ben Kohl (President-Elect) are very grateful to the KASFAA board of directors and the members of KASFAA for sending them to the NASFAA Leadership and Legislative Conference in Washington, D.C. Craig and Ben had a delightful and meaningful experience in so many ways, which they describe in this article.
Craig and Ben arrived on Saturday evening of March 8, and checked into the Embassy Row Hotel, near the Dupont Circle Hotel where the conference was located. The conference began the next morning. The conference agenda was well organized for the attendees, with presentations ranging from how to be a leader, conducting presentations, exercising ethics, how to properly run a meeting, how to perform strategic planning, and even how to operate a 501 (c)(3). All the information was relevant and wonderfully presented by NASFAA staff or by other financial aid administrators, which included the current and past NASFAA Chairs Craig Munier (University of Nebraska – Lincoln) and Ron Day (Kennesaw State University). NASFAA Speed Dating sessions were highlights for Craig and Ben. These 30 minute sessions were held on Monday afternoon, and focused on association investing, use of social media, NASFAA Leadership Pipeline, and issues facing regional association officers as well as a focus on by-laws, policies and procedures. In these sessions, participants received help, advice, and explanation of issues in small groups to facilitate interaction and discussion.
Craig and Ben deliberately wanted to network with other financial aid administrators, the NASFAA staff members, and the members of the NASFAA conference training committee. They took full advantage of the networking opportunities by purposely sitting at different tables throughout the day and making sure to introduce themselves, speak with and exchange business cards with as many people as possible. It was a pleasure to meet so many great people with the same goals of serving students and properly administering financial aid.
Justin Draeger (NASFAA President and CEO) and Megan McClean (NASFAA Managing Director of Policy and Federal Relations) highlighted the portion of the conference dedicated to advocating for the federal aid programs with members of Congress during the Capitol Hill visits. Even though Craig had visited with Congressional representatives on Capitol Hill on other occasions, Justin and Megan’s depth perception of how Congress works was illuminating. Craig and Ben particularly enjoyed the role playing exercise that Justin performed with an attendee regarding what to say and not to say during a meeting with a Senator or House Representative. There was also a unique opportunity to ask questions to a panel of Congressional staff members who serve not only majority and minority Congressional representatives, but also those who serve on committees and sub-committees in Congress.
Craig and Ben were successful in scheduling meetings with the staff members of Kansas Senators Jerry Moran and Pat Roberts. On Tuesday morning, after they were deflated by the news that our visit to Senator Moran’s office would not intersect a visit from Bill Gates, Craig and Ben met with Brian Perkins (Jerry Moran staff member). Brian asked Jennifer Castagna (minority staff member from the Appropriations Sub-Committee on Labor, Health and Human Service, and Education) to join in on our discussion. Jennifer was very helpful in shedding light on how the appropriations phase of Reauthorization works somewhat independently from the legislative phase of the process. Craig and Ben were very impressed with Brian and Jennifer’s approachable nature and willingness to ask for our opinions regarding key issues; such as the proposed Postsecondary Institutional Rating System (PIRS) strengthening Pell Grant academic progress rules that are mentioned in President Obama’s recently released FY15 budget.
The meeting with Senator Roberts’ Legislative Assistant, Josh Yurek, also went well although Craig and Ben were not able to drill into some of the issues as they did with Senator Moran’s staff members. Senator Roberts serves on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee so he has some influence as to the short and long-term direction of the financial aid programs. Josh’s opinion, which is universally shared among all the Capitol Hill staff members, is that there will be little movement on Reauthorization in 2014 due to the retirement of several key leaders in Congress and the pending elections.
It seems that movement in higher education policy, in the short run, will likely occur as a result of the latest round of negotiated rule making and FY15 budget negotiations. Therefore, it is important that financial aid administrators be sure to keep an ear to the ground regarding opportunity for input and discussion. Simply put, there is a holding pattern on Reauthorization, but the budget discussion and negotiated rule making are likely to help define the path of Reauthorization. Consequently, and despite the congressional polarization, input on issues from the mundane to the highest level is needed and always timely. Overall, Craig and Ben felt that they were well-received by the Senator’s staff members, and opened up lines of ongoing communication with them as decisions are made concerning financial aid policy and regulations.
At the KASFAA Spring Conference in Topeka, in April, Craig will be inducted as the Chairperson for Governmental Relations and Ben will be inducted as the President. Craig and Ben are looking forward to utilizing the knowledge and experience gained through the conference and meetings on Capitol Hill to help lead KASFAA now and throughout their terms.
(Article and photos courtesy or Ben Kohl/Craig Karlin)