Class of 2016 Crosby Scholars alum and North Rowan High graduate, Jaylen Brown, traveled to Capitol Hill earlier this month to strategically advocate for policies that promote postsecondary access and success. On March 2-3, Brown was joined in Washington, DC by 50 college students from around the country for NCAN Hill Day, which comprised of advocacy training and skill-building sessions to prepare for meetings with members of Congress and congressional staff. Brown was also joined by Crosby Scholars High School Outreach Specialist, Subrina Hough.
The National College Attainment Network (NCAN), through a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, hosted the 2-day event and offered travel support for this project in order to increase student voices in the political process and to encourage Congress to drive equitable postsecondary access and completion. Crosby Scholars was selected as a recipient for the 2020 NCAN Member Advocacy Grant to participate in this event and other opportunities related to higher education advocacy work.
Equity gaps remain in postsecondary education, with students from low-income backgrounds only half as likely to complete a postsecondary certificate or degree by age 26 as high-income students. Moreover, students of color and those who are the first in their family to attend college experience disproportionately lower rates of postsecondary success.
NCAN promotes that closing the attainment gap can have tremendous potential payoff because Americans from the lowest-income backgrounds who obtain a college degree are five times more likely than their peers to rise from poverty. During the Hill Day Training, students and NCAN members were informed on a few key policy priorities: 1) making college affordable for students from low-income backgrounds and 2) simplifying the financial aid processes to increase access to Federal Student Aid.
On Day 2 of the training, Brown and Hough paid visits to the offices of Congressman Ted Budd (District 13) and Senator Thom Tillis. While there, they encouraged our representatives and their staff to build on the foundation of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) improvements contained in the FUTURE Act by eliminating unnecessary questions, fast-tracking eligibility for full Pell Grants to students who receive means-tested benefits and decreasing audit-like verification processes. Learn more at ncan.org/FixFAFSA. They also advocated for a 9% increase in the Pell Grant annually for the next 10 years to eventually help cover 50% of the total cost of college attendance by 2030.
Slated to graduate with his Bachelor’s degree in Exercise Science this May from Winston-Salem State University, Brown knows first-hand how federal policy initiatives have helped and also sometimes hindered students from completing post-secondary education. Brown shared that one of his fellow classmates who was a great student and on track to graduate was selected for FAFSA verification, an audit-like process that roughly half of eligible Pell Grant recipients are selected to undergo. His friend found the verification process to be too difficult to navigate and ultimately it prevented them from returning to school. An estimated 28% of Pell-eligible applicants abandon the aid process after being flagged for verification.
With the right pre-college advising, financial aid, and mentoring, students of color and students from low-income backgrounds succeed at higher rates, whether through a two-year or four-year degree or high-quality certificate program. To fully close the attainment gap between students from low-income families and their upper-income peers, NCAN promotes equitable, practical solutions to make higher education more affordable. NCAN stresses that Congress can remove barriers to post-secondary access and completion by ensuring even more students benefit from federal student aid.
Upon returning from DC, Brown had this to say about his experience, “Being on the Hill was definitely a milestone to check off my bucket list that I didn’t know was there. I have no desire for a career in politics but I do enjoy voicing my concerns and doing what I can to make an impact. I would urge every individual that cares about seeing things move forward to go and to make your voice heard!”