At the 2017 Association of Community College Trustee’s (ACCT) National Legislative Summit (NLS) held February 13-16 in Washington DC, California brought a Community College delegation befitting the largest public postsecondary system in the US. Absent an exact number of those of us traveling 6,000 miles round trip on behalf of our students and institutions, our size was evident as we squeezed together for a group photo following our state’s breakfast session:
Once there, I had the pleasure of advocating for our colleges on Capitol Hill with California Community College Trustee (CCCT) and League Board Chair, Doug Otto, League CEO Board Chair Brian King, Board of Governor’s President Cecilia Estolano, Vice President Tom Epstein, Board of Governor’s and CCCT Board member Pamela Haynes, Board of Governor’s member Deborah Malumed, Chancellor Eloy Oakley, Vice Chancellor of External Relations Laura Metune, and League colleagues and government relations experts Lizette Navarette and Ryan McElhinney.
Thirty meetings in three days didn’t permit much time for attendance at NLS conference events. Nevertheless, the California congressional delegation, selected members of key committees, Department of Education leadership and staff, and budget and policy committee and elected- member staff, were overwhelmingly supportive and appreciative of the work and mission of our sector.
Although there has been a flurry of activity by the new Administration, our meetings made clear that far more is unknown than known about our issues of concern. Still, face-to-face meetings on the Hill with 70-80 California Community College leaders meant pressing our case for year-round Pell, inclusion of workforce development as part of any significant infrastructure package, and protection and support of DACA and Dreamer students, among other priorities. And concerning DACA, we heard from members on both sides of the aisle, that DACA students were not likely not be targeted in Executive Orders in the near term, and there was as yet no indication that students and their families faced imminent threat. Still, the future remains uncertain, and vigilance and support for our students necessarily continues.
A meeting with Deputy Assistant Secretary Lynn Mahaffie at the Department of Education left little doubt that the postsecondary agenda of Secretary DeVos is unknown to those largely responsible for implementing and monitoring it; which is arguably an ideal time for advocates to describe the challenges and advocate for our students and institutions.
It was encouraging that the new Education Secretary addressed community college leaders at the closing session of the conference. In Secretary DeVos’s eight and one-half minute address (without an opportunity for questions and answers), there were references to the success of early college programs, the flexibility and nimbleness of the nation’s community colleges, and the importance of our workforce and developmental education missions. Still, those present hoping for a substantive policy speech would have to wait for another occasion. And concerns about the vocationalization of community colleges were likely considering the sparse recognition of liberal arts and transfer education.
At Wednesday morning’s California Delegation breakfast, we heard from Kamal Essaheb, Director of Policy & Advocacy at the National Immigration Law Center, who opened with a personal reflection on his experience as a Moroccan immigrant living in New York and being subjected to extensive questioning following the September 11th attacks. He also offered to assist districts and colleges concerned with a variety of issues including DACA and the legal status of colleges and undocumented students.
Although the League’s advocacy will focus on the budget and policy emanating from our state Capitol in Sacramento, it is clear that a more consistent and muscular presence in Washington, D.C. The League will be offering more updates and information as information concerning federal issues becomes available.