Creating the Tipping Point - Blog

Vote for Ed in '08

May 01, 2007

Vote for Ed in '08! He’s got a simple platform:  improve education standards, ensure that a qualified teacher leads every class and give students more time and support for learning. In actuality, Ed is not a candidate for president in 2008. 

It is a campaign that was launched last week by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation to put education back on the agenda for presidential candidates.   They plan to invest $60 million, almost as much as some presidential campaigns, to get elected officials more engaged in this debate.

This effort is long overdue and hopefully it will reenergize our nation’s passion for quality education.  Over the last ten years America has been taking the quality of our schools for granted, allowing many children to fall through the cracks.   This campaign has the opportunity to really bring people together to identify solutions to the growing trouble in our schools.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation have realized that foundations can’t just identify solutions as an armchair quarterback.  They now have to advocate for them.  Many foundations have stayed out of this area because politics is considered too messy, especially with all the legal rules governing advocacy and lobbying.

This effort is a sign of how foundations need to reexamine how they carry out their mission.  Political advocacy has become increasingly important to any organization, whether a corporation, non-profit, think tank, or foundation.  That is why so many of them have developed grassroots communities to support their issues.  Elected officials and the media listen carefully to informed, passionate advocates in today’s political environment.

Also, these grassroots communities are beneficial because they democratize organizations.  They become more transparent thus allowing feedback to travel more quickly to the leadership of the organization.  This is critical to the success of any organization over the short and long-term.

The Vote for Ed campaign has the potential to create a real dialogue on the education challenges facing this country.  Utilizing the latest tools and technologies to create an effective grassroots community, this is one campaign that politicians can’t afford to ignore.

A Move Towards Accountability

January 24, 2007

I applaud the American Association of State Colleges and Universities for taking a leadership role in discussing the accountability issue.  Today they announced the creation of a task force to identify “ways that public higher education can become more accountable to the public on learning outcomes and campus engagement while also providing additional information to students and families to aid them in the selection process.”

A perceived lack of accountability within higher education institutions has motivated the Department of Education to try to institute “No Child Left Behind” in the higher education arena.  The critique of higher education is often that it is not accountable to anyone.

I disagree with that statement because higher education institutions are accountable to the students, the community, and state lawmakers.  Rather, the problem is often that higher education does not do the greatest job of educating key stakeholders and the community about all the services that they provide. 

My hope is that this report not only looks at developing standards of accountability but also explores ways that higher education groups can help get the word out about all the great services that they provide to the community.

A small victory for higher education on the budget

March 17, 2006

Yesterday, national higher education associations achieved a small victory when the Senate increased funding for education and biomedical research over and above President Bush’s proposed budget. While any victory is important, this one is small because student aid is still funded at lower levels than that provided in budgets from two years ago.

Read the full story here:

The Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, which organized the successful grassroots campaign to urge Senators to increase funding for biomedical research, sent more than 8,400 letters to Senators. Notably, this is not a very large amount of letters to hit Capitol Hill; most advocacy groups have to send hundreds of thousands of letters in order for a campaign to be successful. This demonstrates that it is not always the quantity of the letters that matter on Capitol Hill but rather be the quality.

This is just another example of the positive impact that grassroots advocacy can have on the budget process. It makes me wonder why higher education does not get on board.

The hits keep coming to higher education

March 05, 2006

The last few months, higher education has suffered some major setbacks in Washington. It started with the passage $12 billion in cuts to student loans and continued with the announcement of the President’s budget in early February.

The President’s budget will freeze or cut many important programs that prepare high school students for college and make it affordable. The real impact of these cuts was demonstrated in a recent article in USA Today.

“Students suffocate under tens of thousands in loans” -

My only question is when will higher education hit the breaking point? When will elected officials and the public understand the impact of state and federal funding cuts? When will higher education supporters fight back?

Reauthorization may be stalled

January 12, 2006

Inside Higher Education has reported that Reauthorization of the Higher Education Act may have stalled again. This would be to the delight of many public Colleges and Universities, and is good news for public higher education institutions across the country.

The article describes three possible scenarios:

(1) negotiators from the House and Senate could agree on and pass a full-blown bill that contains all of the provisions that were not included in the budget measure;
(2) lawmakers could put together legislation that contains selected Higher Education Act provisions that are perceived to be crucial (or politically desirable), as well as measures that fix flaws that have been or will be identified in the budget legislation; or
(3) Congress could just extend the remaining parts of the higher education law in their current form for a year or even five years. Congress passed a bill in December that temporarily extended the Higher Ed Act through March.

Higher Education groups should push to extend the current law for just another year for two reasons. With the midterm elections approaching and, with them, a chance we could get a different Congress. Even if that does not happen, the next year is a good opportunity for Colleges and Universities to work with students, faculty, staff, and alumni in educating members of Congress. Congress always seems to listen better to constituents during an election year.

The Inside Higher Education article does a great job of explaining the current situation at the federal level. Read the full article here:

In case you missed it

January 03, 2006

In case you missed it, before Congress left Washington DC for the holiday break it passed a budget bill that cut $12.6 billion from the student loan program. Many of the national higher education associations have been lobbying to defeat the proposal.

Read a letter they sent to Senators here:

This recent vote demonstrates the lack of political power that higher education currently exercises. Before 1994, national higher education associations and institutions had significant leverage with federal lawmakers. Unfortunately, that power has diminished very quickly because these associations have not changed with the times. Over the last ten years, trade associations, non-profits and businesses have developed grassroots programs to pressure lawmakers to support their requests.  Read an earlier post about this here:

Now is the time for higher education associations to catch up with the rest of the Washington establishment and develop aggressive grassroots programs. With increased competition for state and federal money it is the only way higher education will be able to survive. Read more about the Senate vote here:

Federal Budget - Good news

November 11, 2005

Good news out of Washington today. The House of Representatives could not get enough votes to pass the budget. The House budget included $14.3 billion worth of cuts to federal financial aid programs.

It is important to note that several House members have heard from constituents on this issue, which shows how the grassroots can work at influencing elected officials. As of now the Public Interest Research group and US Aid Alliance, run by the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, have been the only known groups that are actively using grassroots activities to influence Congress.

This good news is most likely only temporary. If history is any indication, the leadership will just end up twisting some arms over the next few days and the current budget will pass. The only way that you can combat that tactic is by turning up the grassroots heat and showing members that voting for these cuts would be a bad political decision.

Read the full article here:

A wake up call

October 26, 2005

Last week Republican leadership in the US House of Representatives proposed more than $15 Billion in cuts to student loan programs. These programs are vital to making college affordable to millions of students. With tuition increases occurring throughout the country because of budget cuts at the state level, these cuts could not have come at a worse time for students.

This announcement should serve as a wake-up call to institutions around that country that they need to develop more sophisticated Government Affairs shops. Long gone are the days when all an institution needed were lobbyists and a handful of influential alumni. Don’t get me wrong, both those components are still important – they just need to be balanced out with an effective grassroots organization and media campaigns. While resources may be tight, developing an effective grassroots program is still one of the best investments institutions can make.

A recent Inside Higher Education article describes how the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU) is developing grassroots programs to respond to the Republican proposal. NAICU’s efforts have just begun to scratch the surface of what is possible with a strategic grassroots program. Read the full article here:

Over the next few weeks I will lay out the reason why Higher Education institutions need to develop grassroots programs to effectively fight budget cuts at the state and federal level

At the Big Ten Conference

September 26, 2005

Tomorrow I am leading a discussion at the Big Ten Government Relations Conference about developing grassroots programs at the federal level.  This topic is extremely important because of the increased pressure the federal budget is facing as a result of the War in Iraq and now Hurricane Katrina.

Every special interest groups will be ramping up pressure to make sure that they are not on the chopping block.  Higher Education institutions will need to follow suit and develop grassroots programs.

Higher Education is in a unique position compared to many groups that lobby because of the large passionate group of constituents/supporters.  Alumni, faculty, staff, students, and parents joining together throughout the country can be a formidable grassroots group.  The challenge for Higher Education is to develop programs that effectively reach out to these groups.

View my presentation here:

The file may take a few minutes to download.

Lobbying vs Grassroots

July 25, 2005

Like corporations, many higher education institutions are investing significant resources into lobbying firms as a way to get their messages to the federal government.  An article in the Lexington Herald Leader describes how both large and small colleges in Kentucky have felt the pressure of declining state funding and are looking for new sources of revenue in Washington DC.

Unfortunately, many institutions overlook another tactic that is cheaper and more effective.  Engaging alumni, faculty, staff, students and parents in building grassroots support for the University's legislative agenda can be a powerful force at state capitols and even at the federal level.  If institutions just invested a small percentage of their lobbying dollars in grassroots activities they would be in a much better position at the legislature and Congress.

Corporations have realized that traditional lobbying techniques are no longer as effective as they used to be.  In the last 10 years corporations have made significant investments in developing strong public affairs and grassroots programs.  They have recognized the value in having customers and employees in contacting state in federal officials in advancing the companies legislative agenda.

A good example of this is Southwest Airlines recent website – Set Love Free.  This campaign is working to reverse the Wright amendment which limits Southwest's ability to expand at its home base of Love Field.

Some higher education institutions have begun to realize the power of the grassroots by creating programs to engage the University communities.  Many of the Universities in Kentucky, that the articles examines, actually have grassroots programs.

View their website here:

University of Kentucky -

Western Kentucky University -

University of Louisville -

Although these programs just scratch the surface of what is possible with grassroots programs.  In order to be more effective these institutions need to take their programs to up another level to make them truly effective.  By just making a few changes to their programs they can create the tipping point.  We will examine how you create the tipping point in the coming weeks.

Tags - Higher Education, State funding, lobby, grassroots


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