Publications & Products
Volume 2, Issue 8


A Call to Action on Advocacy

Community college leaders must be better advocates for legislation that will increase institutional access, remove barriers to student success and adequately fund their programs, says one of the sector's most effective champions.

Joe D. May is president of the Louisiana Community and Technical College System, one of the country's youngest educational state systems. Created in 1999, the system currently consists of 14 institutions. Since 2006, May has been the driver behind the development and passage of several pieces of landmark legislation that have benefitted the system's students. Some key legislative achievements include an overhaul of the state's community and technical college funding formula, a comprehensive transfer and articulation program between the state's two- and four-year institutions, and about $300 million in construction funds for campus expansion and modernization.

May says he's achieved success by being "proactive rather than reactive" in his advocacy. He believes community college leaders must spend their energies helping pass legislation that help students rather than working around "existing poor laws and ill-advised policies that hold everyone back."

May says legislative advocacy is much like fundraising, and the skills that institutional leaders need to excel in both are similar because "what you're trying to do is move people from inaction to action." He believes that, by applying principles that work in the advancement arena, community college leaders can achieve success with their legislative agenda.

To formulate a legislative agenda, May suggests college leaders follow these steps:

  • Identify the problem. Pinpoint what the key issues are for your service area—whether it be low degree attainment, widespread poverty, brain drain of local talent, a growing skills gap for workers, underemployment or low adult literacy.
  • Figure out the barriers. "Every state is getting exactly the results its rules are designed to produce," says May, noting that every barrier can be traced back to a policy or piece of legislation. He adds that good policies remove those barriers. For example, comprehensive articulation agreements and common course numbering make it easier for students to transfer between institutions and earn advanced degrees.
  • Propose policy solutions. May suggests looking at other states that may have done a better job than others at solving their particular problem. He says that he introduced Louisiana legislators to officials from Florida who had recently championed a model transfer system for their state institutions. May and the legislators then adapted the best practices from Florida to their system's needs. He adds: "What they heard was a Louisiana solution to a Louisiana problem. You have to own your policy solution and make it your own."

This is the first in a two-part series on legislative advocacy. In March, the second article will cover how community colleges—with a legislative agenda in hand—can engage constituents to accomplish their goals.

Please share your questions and comments with Marc Westenburg via email at mwestenburg@case.org or +1 202 478 5570.

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This article is from the February 2013 issue of the Community College Advancement News.

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