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Mr. Fletcher Goes to Washington

Even in these crazy days, your reps really do want to hear from you.

I took the occasion of a recent trip to Washington, DC, to speak to my senators and representative (really, their staffers), something I try to do once a year. It isn’t hard: Just call or e-mail their offices to set up an appointment. Specify your topic so that you meet with the right staffers. They are polite, listen carefully, take notes, and ask questions. These conversations are important to them because they know you vote and that you know people who vote.

I typically talk about issues related to K-12 technology because there usually isn’t much to discuss regarding federal policy on—or funding of—higher education technology. But this year is an exception because of the American Graduation Initiative (AGI), which has the potential to substantially impact higher education’s use of technology.

AGI is a 10-year, $12 billion investment in community colleges to help reclaim our country’s leadership in college graduation rates. As we reported in the December 2009 special issue of CT, technology can play a huge role in the major thrusts of the initiative, including:

  • Providing targeted learning support to students who need it most

  • Creating data-driven systems that can identify students most likely to drop out

  • Modernizing facilities to meet new curriculum demands

  • Facilitating learning communities for a diverse and dispersed student population

  • Creating jobs-training programs for a 21st century economy

AGI is to be funded from another much larger Obama proposal to overhaul the student loan system. In short, instead of loans going through banks and other institutions that make a profit off the transactions, the money would flow directly from the Department of Education to students and colleges, thereby saving $87 billion, according to early Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates.

In the House bill, HR3221, AGI would be allocated some portion of these savings, along with a number of other education programs (like Pell Grants). But the bill is already in jeopardy of not passing the Senate because the cost savings have been subsequently downsized by the CBO to $67 billion (and that creates procedural complications that are too arcane to go into here).

I let my congressional staffers know that, regardless of the complications, I felt it was critical to pass some version of HR3221. I also stressed what a crucial role technology could play in implementing the key tenets of the graduation initiative.

Policy makers at all levels are getting hammered about budget cuts right now, so you may think they don’t want to hear from you. That is not the case. They get bombarded from lobbyists all day, every day; hearing from people outside the Beltway is a welcome relief to some staffers. Call, e-mail, or talk in person with your representatives’ staff. To find your reps’ contact information, go to

You can make a difference.

When I wrote Login for the April issue, I mentioned "procedural complications that are too arcane to go into here." Those procedural complications came to fruition in a robust way. HR3221 became part of the reconciliation package that was passed as a part of health care. The resultant bill saves $61 billion over 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Of the $61 billion, the largest pot--$36 billion--will go to increase the maximum Pell Grant. In addition, the bill calls for $2 billion over four years to assist community colleges. This is a significant decrease from the $11 billion proposed by President Obama last July and from $10 billion in the original House bill. The bill has a number of other provisions to assist students who have taken out loans to attend college, as well as a $255 million to assist historically black colleges.

While the specific amounts for the higher ed programs and support to students are much less than the original House bill, most representatives from institutions of higher education that we talked to were pleased to see students getting additional assistance to attend higher education. --Geoffrey H. Fletcher

About the Author

Geoffrey H. Fletcher is the deputy executive director of the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA).

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