Keep in touch with your federal reps

By Ann M. Garten

Community college leaders’ role in working directly with congressional representatives at home cannot be overlooked or minimized.

Most community college public affairs, public relations or community relations professionals wear many hats. And when our plates are really full at the office, it sometimes seems best to push aside those initiatives that seem the least impactful.

Unfortunately for some, engaging in federal government relations becomes one of those casualties. For many of us, Washington, D.C., is geographically far from us; and federal policies and regulations can appear too irrelevant to impact our students’ daily lives. In reality, many of the regulations and policies introduced, argued and implemented or omitted by Congress, impact our students and colleges every day.

Take financial aid, Title IX or Perkins and Pell grants, just to name a few. Without these important federal programs, our colleges and students would have far fewer opportunities for success.

A team approach

Many of us visit Washington once, maybe twice a year. We attend the annual National Legislative Summit where we learn about and discuss important changes to policy and new regulations that will impact our colleges. We visit our congressional reps and U.S. senate offices and request support or opposition to the latest initiatives that will potentially impact community colleges.

Then we return home and campus duties, city, county and state regulations and activities eat up our daily work schedule. Much of what we were passionate about during our time in Washington becomes a distant memory. We figure our advocacy team at the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) will take care of the follow-up for us.

Well, yes, they do that on a daily basis, but our role in working directly with our congressional representatives at home cannot be overlooked or minimized. It is important for us to be engaged with our members of Congress and their staff all year long. Just as we engage on a regular basis with local and state elected officials and their staff, we must do the same with our federal representatives.

Those of us in the business know that rule number one in Government Relations 101 is the importance for elected officials to hear directly from their constituents. The AACC advocacy team cannot do it alone – they represent us very well, but the icing on the cake is each one of us representing our college to our elected representatives.

Campus invitation

Consider your congressional representatives’ district office the same as you do the district office for your state legislators, city council, chamber of commerce, school boards, etc. Visit their district offices, even if it means you are meeting with staff — remember, the staffers are the ones dealing with specific issues on a daily basis. The staff members are the ones briefing the elected representatives on the issues, so don’t discount the value of meeting with staff.

But more importantly, invite your congressional representatives and/or their staff to visit your campus. Let them see, hear and meet students on your campus. Show them the exciting programs and share your success stories.

I hope that when you settle in to update your government relations plan for the year, you will remember to start at the top and make federal relations first.

Read the full Community College Daily article online.

Continue the conversation on our LinkedIn group.

Ann M. Garten
Ann M. Garten

 is community relations director at El Camino College in Torrance, California. She has been in community college public relations/government relations for 26 years.