Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.
– George S. Patton
Volume 75 | Issue 6
November 2007

Public Policy Update

ACUI revises its approach to meeting members’ public policy needs

What should ACUI’s role be in terms of public policy? What kind of return are members getting for their investment in lobbying efforts? What are the critical needs that ACUI could better be serving? Recently, the Association set out to answer these questions through a survey of ACUI professional members at U.S. campuses. The consensus was that participation in the Consortium on Government Relations for Student Affairs was not the best use of funds nor was it meeting members’ public policy needs.


In 1998, ACUI became a charter member of the Consortium on Government Relations for Student Affairs along with the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA), the American College Personnel Association (ACPA), the Association for Student Judicial Affairs (ASJA), and the American College Health Association (ACHA). Since then, the Association of College and University Housing Officials International (ACUHO-I) also has joined the Consortium. 

Public policy was a primary focus of the Association’s 2000–05 strategic plan, and so ACUI created a new volunteer “Public Policy Team Leader” role to spearhead these efforts, a position currently held by Kim Savage, University of Illinois–Chicago. Later, in 2006, ACUI began a new strategic plan, which, while not devaluing public policy, did not place it among the Association’s top priorities.

Similarly, in recent years, priority shifts have occurred in the U.S. federal government. Legislators have focused on the war in Iraq, Supreme Court justice and other hearings, immigration, Medicare reform, and other issues not directly related to student affairs or even higher education. While these issues merit legislators’ attention, they also have caused ACUI to question the fiscal responsibility of funding lobbying efforts related to such issues as student debt, reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, and fire safety, all of which more closely affect college unions and student activities.

Like any investment, periodic assessment is important. Therefore, ACUI conducted a survey in August 2007 to determine members’ needs in the area of public policy and whether ACUI’s participation in the Consortium was a beneficial way of meeting those needs.  The survey was sent to 2,303 professional members at U.S. colleges and universities, and 259 completed it. Results of the survey follow.

Survey results

To be successful college union and student activities professionals, respondents most often said they need state legislative updates (64.4 percent), trend information about campus activism (63.2 percent), and federal legislative updates (56.9 percent). This was true for respondents from private and public institutions.

The No.1 public policy issue affecting respondents’ work was “risk management for campus programs” (31.4 percent), followed by “student fee/funding restrictions” (22.0 percent) and “emergency preparedness” (10.6 percent). While 92.4 percent of respondents were from four-year institutions, these issues were still the most common for respondents from two-year schools.

 “Administrative units on campus” were almost always respondents’ primary resource for receiving public policy information—including federal legislation, state legislation, local legislation, and building code information. “Colleagues on campus” and “ACUI” were more common resources for strategies to increase students’ civic engagement. Similarly, the “Chronicle of Higher Education” and “ACUI” were common resources for trends in campus activism. Ironically, when asked: “What other resources or educational associations do you depend on to stay abreast of policy issues?” more than 40 percent named an association that participates in the Consortium. From this one might speculate that while ACUI has access to and provides the same information as the other Consortium associations, ACUI members do not look to this organization to provide public policy information. 

When asked what role ACUI should play in public policy, respondents stated ACUI should be an informational resource on “federal legislation” (72.1. percent), “student civic engagement strategies” (50.5 percent), and “campus activism trends” (53.2 percent). In the open-response section many ACUI members also specified that the Association should not be involved in lobbying efforts. 

What now?

ACUI very much desires to continue our work in being an informational resource on federal legislation and increase its efforts in helping our members facilitate civic engagement among campus communities. However, as its name states, the Consortium is primarily focused on government relations, which is no longer the most pressing public policy need of our members. Hurt, Norton & Associates, Inc. was hired by the Consortium to focus on legislative and regulatory issues. ACUI used membership dollars to pay its share of this contractual agreement—a sum of several thousand dollars.  Using the funds saved from Consortium financial obligations, ACUI can now better support tracking of a range of public policy issues that affect college unions and student activities—from file sharing, to food regulations, to restrictions on textbooks, to sustainability concerns—there are many issues you need to know about beyond the realm of student affairs.

Additionally, in March 2009 a new Public Policy Team will begin its term. Previous team participation has been fluent and primarily focused on providing input as ACUI and the Consortium took stances on the issues in the federal government. Following the volunteer recruitment during the coming months, the Public Policy Team will have a revised charge focuses on building a knowledge base of trends in campus activism and strategies for civic engagement.

ACUI’s new approach to public policy will be three-pronged; we will be an informational resource on federal legislation, civic engagement on campus, and student activism. To join in this effort, please apply for the Public Policy Team. More information is available at http://www.acui.org/volunteer.