Publications & Products
Volume 2, Issue 9

The Road to Changing State Policy

Community college leaders must make a clear "ask" and articulate the return on investment when advocating for legislation, says the head of a two-year college system.

Joe D. May, president of the Louisiana Community and Technical College System, has achieved much success in legislative advocacy, shepherding numerous policy achievements via the Louisiana state legislature in the past six years. He attributes his success to being "proactive rather than reactive" with lawmakers.

In last month's Community College Advancement News, May outlined how community college leaders should formulate a legislative agenda. With an established agenda, he suggests college leaders follow these steps to engage their constituents to accomplish their goals:

  • Change minds. "If you want to change the minds of legislators, don't immediately talk to legislators," May says. "First, talk to community members, employers and other stakeholders about the issue at hand. When you get those people into agreement, then the legislators and policy makers will quickly adapt and understand the importance of solving the problem that community and business leaders are then telling them about."
  • Craft a simple and compelling message. When institutional leaders talk about the policies they are proposing, the actionable steps must be "practical, backed by data and make sense to the average person," says May. He encourages leaders to have stakeholders tell "stories that clarify both the problem and the solution."
  • Directly engage stakeholders. May says leaders must conduct a face-to-face campaign in their community where they can talk directly to the public about the problem they're addressing and the policy solution they're proposing. This includes interviews with local media, conversations with newspaper editorial boards and luncheons with community leaders. May maintains a full schedule of appearances with these stakeholders before and during legislative sessions to build positive public momentum for his agenda.
  • Work closely with policy makers. Finally, May says leaders need to maintain a well-cultivated relationship with legislators. He adds that proposed policy solutions should address problems that legislators are already concerned about. If possible, leaders should align their policy position with the positions of key legislators. May also suggests leaving nothing to chance—drafting legislation, writing amendments and staying on top of every bill as it moves through the legislature.

May says legislative advocacy is some of the hardest and most important work a college leader will ever do. He notes that it's important for leaders to stay focused on their goals while adapting to the constantly changing environment.

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

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