Sunday — Wednesday • March 19-22, 2017 • Hyatt Regency Washington on Capitol Hill • Washington, D.C.
COE's 37th Annual Policy Seminar was a great success. This year, more than 700 advocates for college access and support programs took to Capitol Hill to fight for the TRIO and GEAR UP programs. Specifically, they urged Congress to pass an omnibus appropriations bill to fund the remainder of Fiscal Year 2017 and to reject the Administration’s proposed cuts to non-defense discretionary programs, including TRIO and GEAR UP. To learn more about the 2017 Policy Seminar message, please review the 2017 Policy Manual, which is available here (.pdf).
During the conference, Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Representatives Mike Simpson (R-ID), Cedric Richmond (D-LA), and Alma Adams (D-NC) shared their thoughts on higher education and the future of the TRIO programs. Remarking that education is the key to unlock the door of freedom, Senator Merkley stated, "The TRIO programs are important, we can't cut a single dime from them." He also noted that the United States has the number one military in the world. "What if we had the number one education system?" Congressman Mike Simpson (R-ID) stated that students should not be denied the opportunity to go to college just because they can't afford it. "TRIO will be okay in the next budget," he said. "It's important and will lead to a better country." Congressman Cedric Richmond (D-LA) stated that every child has a right to a higher education but they don't have equal access. "We are spending money on things that don't give us a good return on our investment," he said. "TRIO gives us a good return; cutting it is not the way." Finally, Congresswoman Alma Adams (D-NC) stated that knowledge is power and that education is the great equalizer. "Where you start out in life doesn't have to determine how far you'll go," she said. "We are going to fight these cuts; this budget to put America first puts us last."
In a panel entitled, "What's Really Happening in Washington, D.C.," COE President Emeritus Arnold Mitchem guided an in-depth discussion between noted policy experts. With regard to education, TRIO alumnus and former Congressman Henry Bonilla advised the community to be passionate and stressed that personal stories from students make a bigger impact on policymakers than a list of statistics. To convince Congress to make students' needs a priority, Ken Salomon of Thompson Coburn LLP told the audience that the best thing they can do to let policymakers know about the importance of these programs is to bring more constituent-based stories to their attention. Chris Murray from the Marquette University Les Aspin Center for Government said that education is not high on the Administration's agenda and that advocates of programs like TRIO should make a direct connection with decision makers so they can see clearly why these programs are something that they should support — and demand that their representatives pay attention.
Stan Collender, Executive Vice President of MSLGROUP Qorvis and a Policy Seminar favorite, told the audience that if they show that the TRIO programs are effective, then they can be successful in defending them. "How can you talk about a trillion dollar investment in infrastructure without an investment in human capital-education?" he asked.