Preserve and Advance: Independent Higher Education Policy Agenda Discussed

Top Takeaways

  • Presidents of independent colleges and universities can be strong advocates for important policies and legislation.
  • NAICU’s current top policy priority is doubling the Pell Grant, which supports the national priorities of equity, access, and affordability.

Collective advocacy on the part of independent college and university presidents to support issues of critical importance to our sector is essential to shaping federal and state policy, said Barbara Mistick, president of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU).

Mistick and Hass seated on chairs on stage
CIC President Marjorie Hass and NAICU President Barbara Mistick

Mistick and CIC President Marjorie Hass closed CIC’s 54th annual Presidents Institute with a conversation about advancing the policy agenda for independent higher education. “You [college and university presidents] are the intellectual leaders in your communities, and so you have standing with elected officials,” Mistick said. “Having a voice at the federal level and understanding the significant impact of Washington policymaking on college campuses is important…. The federal government is your largest donor when institutional aid and other funding (such as emergency relief funds from the CARES Act and the American Rescue Plan) are factored in.” She emphasized that members of Congress need to understand that the independent sector comprises 1,700 institutions that serve over 2 million [full-time undergraduate] students with an economic impact of nearly $600 billion.

Mistick outlined NAICU’s top policy priorities for the year, and doubling the Pell Grant from $6,495 to $13,000 by the program’s 50th anniversary in June 2022 is number one. “Support for doubling the Pell Grant is astounding—75 percent of Americans in a recent national survey conducted on behalf of NAICU said they are in favor of doubling the Pell. And 60 percent are familiar with the federal funding program, while 42 percent recall someone in their family receiving a Pell Grant.” She urged presidents to help make expanding the Pell Grant the top higher education priority for Congress and the Biden administration. “Doubling Pell addresses the national priorities of equity, access, and affordability…and if college completion is a priority, members of Congress need to understand that the independent sector does completion better than any other sector—14 points better than publics.”

Other important issues that will be front and center at NAICU this year, and that were discussed in more detail at the organization’s Annual Meeting and Advocacy Day (February 6–9 in Washington, DC), include negotiated rulemaking, impending changes to Title IX, student debt, and academic freedom.

Hass noted that although it is difficult for individual college presidents to impact policy at the federal level, collective action is effective. “NAICU has done the homework for us. As part of their annual meeting, they provide talking points and information about members of Congress with whom to meet, and they schedule appointments and coordinate groups of presidents for Capitol Hill visits. They get us all rowing in the same direction.”