The Senate Meets AYA
April 30, 2018
On April 26th and 27th, AYA met with 12 members of the Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee to talk about legislative solutions to the student debt crisis and increasing higher education affordability, mostly through the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA). These meetings were incredibly beneficial to AYA and our members.
Who we met with
Your lobbyist, Ally Bernstein, along with AYA founder Ben Brown, and AYA members, met with the offices of Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA), Sen. Todd Young (R-IN), Sen. Tina Smith (D-MN), Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), Sen. Bernard “Bernie” Sanders (I-VT), Sen. Timothy Kaine (D-VA), Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Sen. Michael Enzi (R-WY), and Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL).
All of these Senators sit on the Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee. This committee is the first stop for higher education reform work.
What we talked about
AYA had the opportunity to introduce our organization to members of Congress and their staff who will be working on writing the new higher education legislation. Establishing these relationships with Hill staff is crucial in our work to help enact new laws that will make college more accessible, affordable, and will be benefit all AYA members and young people.
We talked a lot about the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA), which is the likely piece of legislation that could overhaul the higher education system on issues like affordability, access, and the student debt crisis.
What we learned
We learned about each Senators’ priorities for improving the higher education system, increasing access and making college more affordable for students. More importantly, we learned about specific pieces of legislation that members have introduced or are working on now that our members can help support and take action on.
We also learned that time moves very fast in D.C. (or slow depending on how you think about it). It is unlikely that a comprehensive HEA will move forward this Congress, given the fast approaching midterm elections and some other critical issues the Senate needs to make time for.
The people we met with were very excited for a fresh new advocacy group. Many folks we talked with said they have been waiting for the “young person’s lobbyist” and are eager to hear from young people.
While the average age of a senator is 61, many of their staffers–the ones who are specialized experts and actually work to draft legislation are much younger, many in their 20’s and early 30’s. They know first hand the issues that affect young people.
The AYA members that attended these meetings directly engaged with Congress and their staff and were empowered to tell their stories about the negative impact of crushing college debt. During these meetings, AYA members engaged in their civic duty and let congress know first-hand how these outdated policies and systems affect them and called on Congress to improve higher education for those currently in debt and for the next generation of students.
AYA’s lobbyist, Ally Bernstein, Vice President of Bernstein Strategy Group, who is an expert in education policy, attended these meetings with AYA and staunchly advocated for AYA’s priorities regarding improvements to the higher education system. “By far, the most powerful form of advocacy is having real people meet directly with their members of Congress and empowering them to take action on the important issues, such as college affordability, that face them today. As AYA’s lobbyist and an AYA member myself, I am there to articulate the organization’s policy priorities, serve as a resource to Hill staff on both sides of the aisle, and maintain AYA’s presence on Capitol Hill throughout the year. However, it is really the AYA members and constituents who make the most difference when it comes to effective advocacy and I am proud of the members who met with their Senators last week to talk about improving the higher education system for all young Americans.”