On campus and across the country, the federal government is directly involved in funding university operations. In 2020, the national government spent over $205 billion on higher education, with the majority going to student aid. The rest goes to institutional priority ranging from research to student tax benefits to the GI Bill, according to Terry Hartle, senior vice president of government relations and public affairs at the American Council on Education, a group of defense of higher education.

This makes the federal government a crucial source of support for research initiatives and higher education aid, Hartle said. It is also critical to determine the immigration policies that dictate which international students, faculty, and staff can come to US campuses. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, emergency legislation and pandemic response policies such as the CARES Act of 2020 and the US bailout of 2021 have dispersed tens of billions of dollars into the world. Higher Education.

While higher education institutions lobby the federal government to influence these decisions, their lobbying is different from most other types of political lobbying, Hartle said.

“Higher education doesn’t lobby like anybody else you’ve ever heard of,” he explained. Colleges and universities are mostly tax-exempt, their lobbyists don’t organize political fundraisers, they don’t publish advertising, and they can’t vote, he explained.

The University spent $140,000 on federal lobbying in 2021, compared to $150,000 in 2020. The amount is the lowest among Ivy League schools with spending levels high enough to require reporting of lobbying expenses federal, with Harvard and Yale leading at $560,000 each in 2021.

Universities “can genuinely speak to the American national interest, economic growth and long-term social progress,” Hartle said, making higher education a less partisan issue than other topics for most policymakers. .

Dartmouth does not report its federal lobbying expenses, an option available to schools that spend less than $13,000 per term.

Brown and his peers

Over the past 15 years, Brown has spent less on lobbying than any other Ivy League school that reported spending, with the exception of 2010, when Brown spent just under $30,000 more than Columbia. . Dartmouth does not report its federal lobbying expenses, an option available to schools that spend less than $13,000 per term.

Transportation, food, lodging and national association dues are among “a variety of factors” that go into lobbying numbers, according to the university’s director of government relations Steve Gerencser. “There will always be fluctuations, and there will also be a rounding in the number.”

“Lobbying isn’t as simple as telling lawmakers or their staff how we think they should vote on an issue,” said Al Dahlberg, the university’s assistant vice president of government and community relations. “It’s a much more nuanced process that typically involves sharing information, demonstrating why a certain policy is important to the University and our community, and giving examples.”

The University’s Office of Government and Community Relations, which Dahlberg oversees, is responsible for lobbying the federal government, as well as state and local governments, on behalf of the University.

“Unlike some other schools, we don’t have a representative in Washington, DC from our office; nor do we have a lobbying firm that we hire in Washington, DC,” Dahlberg said. This means that much of the lobbying that is not done directly by the office falls on the associations to which the University belongs.


Rather than hiring lobbyists directly, many universities, including Brown, are members of mutual benefit organizations. These groups, such as the Association of American Universities and the American Council on Education, work to facilitate communication and strategizing among diverse higher education institutions on collective issues, Hartle said. These groups then lobby the federal government on these issues.

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“Associations are very effective at sharing information, helping to develop relationships with colleagues, identifying issues as they arise at the legislative or regulatory level, and … advocating for our priorities,” Dahlberg said.

Each institution pays dues to the associations it belongs to, and an association like the AAU will then spend a percentage of those dues on lobbying efforts, Gerencser said. Among the lobbying expenditures reported by the University in any given year, a portion of the figure does not refer to Brown’s direct lobbying expenditures, but to the amount derived from dues paid to each organization to support collective efforts. .

“At the federal level, our associations track how much they spend lobbying Congress and the executive branch,” Dahlberg said. “Then they allocate (those expenses) to each member institution.”

Each year, for example, the AAU informs the University of the amount it must declare on its behalf, a number that varies depending on travel costs, the extent of lobbying and the issues in question, it said. -he adds.

Unlike the university, some institutions, especially larger public schools, use the services of lobbying agencies or individual lobbyists based outside their home state in addition to their association memberships, Dahlberg said.

While reasons for hiring outside help vary, schools with large athletic programs concerned about name, image, and likeness legislation or schools located in states with large populations and large congressional delegations may be more likely to seek additional services, he noted.

The University’s location in a small state like Rhode Island provides the opportunity to build personal relationships with the state’s congressional delegation that would not be possible in more populous states, he added. “We’re really lucky to have the connections and the access that we have.”

The problems

Despite the many factors at play, most colleges and universities share a common set of principles that drive associations’ legislative priorities, Hartle said. Of these, research, immigration, and federal student financial aid are “permanent.”

Considered by the AAU to be one of “America’s premier research universities,” Brown received $236.1 million in grant and contract revenue in fiscal year 2021, mostly from the National Institutes. of Health, the National Science Foundation, and the Department of Defense, according to the University’s fiscal year 2021 financial report.

The AAU, which represents 66 universities altogether, is a strong advocate for the continued federal support Brown and his peers receive for research, Dahlberg said. “Research funding is essential for Brown,” he noted. “It will always be a priority.”

Higher education institutions are also lobbying visa and immigration policy, Hartle said. Visa advocacy focuses on issues ranging from expanding access to student and work visas, while immigration advocacy tends to focus on green card policy and the program Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

“We have always believed it is in America’s interest to be the destination of choice for the world’s best students and scholars,” Hartle said.

Most institutions “support a positive policy toward DREAMers,” although not all have DREAMers in their student body, Hartle said. In 2017, President Christina Paxson P’19, Provost Richard Locke P’18, and Vice President for Campus Life Eric Estes called the Trump administration’s efforts to end DACA “short-sighted and in direct and flagrant conflict with this nation’s commitment to education,” The Herald previously reported.

According to Gerencser and Dahlberg, the University’s visa and immigration priorities include ensuring that students and faculty can come to the country, advocating for “well-thought-out policies” and ensuring that visa agencies have the appropriate staff.

“What we’re trying to convey is how important the DACA and immigration changes are to individual members of our community — the human element that’s at play here,” Dahlberg said.

Federal student financial aid is also on the list of top lobbying priorities for nearly every institution of higher education in the United States, including Brown, according to Hartle. Through associations such as the AAU and ACE, colleges and universities are advocating for increased funding for federal grants such as the Pell Grants, which provide vital support to students with financial need in addition to what that individual institution support programs can provide.

“All colleges and universities, from the largest research university to the humblest community college, receive federal student aid,” Hartle said. “So each institution will, at some point in the year, give some attention to issues around Pell Grants and Student Loans.”

At Brown, students received more than $5.6 million in need-based scholarships from the federal government in 2020-21, according to the university’s common dataset.

“The expansion of Pell Grants is about more than just increasing the amount of grants,” Dahlberg said. “It could also be expanded to Pell eligibility, (or) allowing Pell to be used for summer study.” The University also worked with policymakers to streamline the application of free federal student aid, in addition to other federally funded institutional aid programs, according to Dahlberg.

The changes that have accompanied the COVID-19 pandemic have resulted in a host of new programs that, in addition to providing temporary increases in student aid, have also sought to address the challenges of remote learning. The University and AAU have engaged in successful advocacy efforts regarding programs that have impacted the legal delivery of remote content outside of the state in which it was created, as well as programs that facilitated the process of delivering health care across state lines, which ultimately failed, Dahlberg said. .

“There are so many important issues out there, and there’s only so much time on Congressional calendars,” Gerencser said. “Especially in times of crisis like the pandemic.”

“When I talk to students or faculty about how we do our jobs, it’s a lot more nuanced than just saying, ‘We support this bill, we oppose this bill,'” said Dahlberg. “The sooner we can engage in this process of sharing information and feedback – and having a dialogue – the better the outcome you will get at the end.”


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