Last month, the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities (AJCU) welcomed representatives from ten member institutions to Washington, D.C. for the 23rd AJCU Government Relations Network and Financial Aid Directors Conference. This meeting, held in-person for the first time since 2019, provided an important opportunity for discussion at a critical moment for higher education policy.

On the first day of the meeting, attendees heard from AJCU’s president, Rev. Michael J. Garanzini, S.J. In his remarks, Fr. Garanzini talked about the recent Assembly of the International Association of Jesuit Universities (IAJU), which was held at Boston College in August. A key focus of the Assembly (attended by representatives of Jesuit institutions across the world) was the role that Jesuit higher education can play in preserving and protecting democracy and global citizenship. His overview of the foundations of Jesuit engagement in education served as a launching point for a discussion on ways that Jesuit colleges and universities can articulate and live out their value and mission today. He urged our participants to think about how our institutions can form students who are global citizens, eager to take on the challenges of the day and ready to advance the greater good.

Following this introductory conversation, leaders from the financial aid and government relations community (Susan Teerink from Marquette University’ Jim White from Gonzaga University; Kate Grubb Clark from Loyola University Maryland; and Gerry Zaboski from The University of Scranton) guided us in a deep dive into AJCU’s advocacy priorities. What should our focus be, on behalf of our students and institutions? What are the issues most central to our mission? What other issues are important to our Jesuit family and, finally, what issues are percolating on our campuses that AJCU should be aware of and involved in? For this session, we were joined by Tom Mulloy, Director of Government Relations for the Jesuit Conference’s Office of Justice and Ecology. How can we work in concert with this office and other partners to advance policies related to justice and mission?

Thanks to the hospitality of the office of U.S. Representative Jimmy Panetta (D-CA), an alumnus of Santa Clara University Law School, the second day of our conference was held in the majestic U.S. Capitol. We heard from expert panelists who shared the most current policy information on several key topics, including: the diversity in college admissions cases currently under review before the U.S. Supreme Court; the U.S. Department of Education’s regulatory agenda for the coming year; pending Title IX regulations and the higher education community’s recent comment letter; Fiscal Year 2023 appropriations; and prospects for “community funded projects” in the next Fiscal year (post-election). Finally, our group met with senior staff from the U.S. Department of Education, including Dr. Nasser Paydar, Assistant Secretary for the Office of Post-Secondary Education; Maggie Siddiqi, Director of the Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships; and Antoinette Flores, Special Advisor. These discussions gave us candid insight into the Biden-Harris Administration’s priorities for the next two years.

In the immediate months ahead, AJCU will continue to call on Congress to adopt the highest possible investments in student financial aid for FY23, and will not back down from our call to double the Federal Pell Grant. We have much work to do before the end of the 117th U.S. Congress and much to plan for as we ready for the 118th Congress.

Last month’s gathering was energizing and impactful. Being together in person created a renewed enthusiasm for building support for Jesuit higher education. The sharing of ideas and the spirit that comes from community had a propelling effect, urging us to explore how we can advance the greater good through our advocacy work. How can Jesuit colleges and universities make a difference in the world, through their students? How are we called to form leaders and global citizens who are prepared to meet the challenges of our day with solutions that advance the common good? These are tall orders for our institutions, but worthy aspirational goals that are grounded in our Jesuit mission.

By Jenny Smulson, Vice President of Government Relations, AJCU