Friday, September 11, 2009
LCC makes big strides in federal lobbying
Stan Chase spends more time in Washington than he used to, more time in contact with the state's congressional delegation, more time talking up Lansing Community College to officials at federal agencies.
Just a few years ago, LCC mostly left federal lobbying up to paid lobbyists, when it did
such lobbying at all.
Now, with flat state funding and burgeoning enrollments, the need is greater. And with community colleges enjoying unprecedented attention from the Obama administration, the stakes have changed.
"We felt that we really needed to put a face on Lansing Community College from a federal perspective," said Chase, the college's senior vice president for advancement, external and governmental affairs.
LCC has pulled in more than $19 million from the federal government over the past five years.
Some of that money has come in the form of large multi-year grants: the $2.5 million workforce grant that expanded the college's nursing programs and launched an entrepreneurship curriculum, the $1 million for an alternative energy center.
But much of it came in smaller amounts, funneled through state agencies and local partners such as Michigan State University and Capital Area Michigan Works!
Chase called that "the small pot."
"What we want is to get to the point where we're in the larger pot, Department of Labor, Department of Education, before that money is portioned out to anybody," he said.
Where federal money is concerned, community colleges are still the stepchildren of higher education. Public four-year schools get 10 times as much from the federal government overall and three times as much per student, according to a recent Brookings Institution report.
But to put that in perspective, LCC paid the Ferguson Group, a D.C. lobbying firm, $54,000 last year. By contrast, the Office of the Vice President of Governmental Affairs at MSU has an annual budget just shy of $1 million and a three-person office in D.C.
Part of that might also be chalked up to the fact that many community colleges came late to the lobbying game. A decade ago, only a handful of the nation's largest schools and systems employed their own lobbyists in Washington.
Today, "as they have in other areas, such as fund-raising, community colleges have become more savvy in terms of the value and need for such activities," said Norma Kent, vice president for communications at the American Association of Community Colleges.
But there is still an issue of how community colleges are perceived.
"When you make an award to the University of Chicago, I always thought everyone said, 'That's a good idea. That must be worthwhile,' " LCC President Brent Knight said. "If you gave a similar amount to a community college, nobody would know your name, and you wouldn't get the same sort of support."
Knight has been able to overcome such perceptions in the past.
Three decades ago, as president of Triton College in suburban Chicago, a foundation denied his pitch for a continuing education grant. Knight made a second pitch on video and shipped a television and VCR to the foundation's office. He ultimately got the money.
LCC actually spent less on federal lobbying last year than it did in 2004, but the intention, Knight said, is to work smarter.
"We have increased emphasis on gathering great ideas, creative ideas, ideas that follow contemporary issues and serve the community," he said.
"It's fair to say that I expect us to do better."
"For a community college, to be competitive, you have to do this on a dual track," said Ron Hamm, a partner with the Ferguson Group who works with LCC, "meaning you have to seek grants as well as appropriations and that's what we've been working on."
Appropriations have been reasonably good to the college this summer. LCC got $190,000 in May to create a fast-track nursing program for military medics. The U.S. House of Representatives approved $420,000 for an advanced auto technology and electric vehicle training program last month. The senate has yet to vote on the latter.
But grant funding may hold the bigger promise, particularly as President Barack Obama has made community colleges a focal point of his economic recovery plans.
Last month, in a speech at Macomb Community College in Warren, Obama announced a $12 billion program to increase community college graduation rates and strengthen job training, noting the projected growth in jobs requiring at least an associate's degree.
Many of the details haven't been laid out. Congress hasn't funded the program. LCC would have to compete for the grants. Still, it's a sign that community colleges' fortunes could be turning.
"I think, at this point, I'd categorize it as hopeful," Knight said, "but I wouldn't go any further than that."
Federal lobbying by LCC
Lansing Community College has spent nearly $300,000 on federal lobbying in the past five years and brought more than $19 million in federal funds. Federal funds appear in the chart below in the year in which the grants were awarded, though, in some cases, the money was received over multiple years.
Lobbying expenditures Funds received
Dykema, Gossett, Rooks, Pitts
2004-05 $104,000 $3,407,553
2005-06 $72,000 $4,167,711
2006-07 $0 $7,079,717
2007-08 $54,000 $1,865,156
The Ferguson Group
2008-09 $54,368 $2,783,244