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Davenport Goes to Capitol Hill to Fight for Financial Aid

LeChelle Davenport (left) went to Capitol Hill with NASFAA member Sonya Stein to lobby for financial aid. (Photo by NASFAA Staff)

LeChelle Davenport, director of financial aid at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, recently visited Capitol Hill to lobby for lawmakers to keep several financial aid allowances intact during the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA). She and fellow National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA) member Sonya Stein, as a part of the association’s ongoing Advocacy Pipeline initiative, met with staffers from several Republican congressional offices, including those tasked with drafting bills to reauthorize the HEA.

During their meetings, NASFAA members emphasized the need to reinstate the practice of automatically adjusting Pell Grants to inflation, which was abandoned for the 2018-19 award year for the first time in five years. Stein, the director of financial aid at the University of Alaska Anchorage, said this would give both institutions and students “some degree of stability year-to-year,” and Davenport explained that it would help institutions avoid having to adjust their award letters, as they did this year. They also urged lawmakers to protect the Pell reserve from cuts in the case of a presidential rescission, where the president has the ability to retroactively redistribute funds allocated to programs in the omnibus bill.

“We are pleased that LeChelle was invited by NASFAA to represent UTHSC and Tennessee on the critical issue of financial aid,” said Lori Gonzalez, PhD, vice chancellor for Academic, Faculty and Student Affairs at UTHSC. “UTHSC is fortunate to have a student advocate leading the Office of Financial Aid.”

With regard to reauthorizing the HEA, NASFAA members expressed their support to lawmakers for various aspects of the House Republicans’ bill, the PROSPER Act, such as the elimination of origination fees and the ability for institutions to limit loan amounts.

“The loan debt at the end of the four-year period is so much, and students tend to borrow more than they need,” Davenport said. “They aren’t looking down the road.”

Davenport and Stein also told lawmakers that they appreciated the proposal to maintain full-time enrollment status at 12-credit hours per semester, with the option for a Pell bonus for those who take 15 credits.

Davenport also told lawmakers, however, that the PROSPER Act proposal to cut Grad PLUS loans would cause graduate students to struggle to fund their education because “students typically need the unsubsidized loan and some additional Grad PLUS loans to cover all their needs.”

Davenport said participating in the Advocacy Pipeline was beneficial and rewarding. “It’s good to know where your state representatives stand, meet with people face to face, and get an understanding of what’s going on in Washington.”

*Editor’s note: This story was originally written by Joelle Fredman, NASFAA staff reporter. Please find it here.