2015 Higher Education Government Relations Conference

2015 HEGRC - web banner

Wednesday, December 9, 2015 to Friday, December 11, 2015
JW Marriott • Austin, Texas

Higher Education and the Public Good

Most states have entered a post-recession period of reinvestment in higher education, yet steep funding cuts remain a reality in many states. And collectively throughout the U.S., the state-to-student cost shift in who pays for a college education continues its long term trend. While legislatively-directed, taxpayer-provided funding of higher education remains the preeminent factor in rising college prices, public higher education is simultaneously being buffeted by an increasingly utilitarian narrative—one in which public discourse and public policy is increasingly focused on the vocational, and less on the civic and intellectual.

What’s at stake? The very ability of public higher education institutions to fulfill their foundational missions to advance teaching, service and research that benefits all of society. 

The 2015 conference program will showcase messages, strategies and tactics for articulating public higher education’s leadership role in fostering positive change on issues transcending virtually every human endeavor that impacts citizens, communities and states; from local to global. Conference participants will strengthen their ability to persuasively convey to state lawmakers and other stakeholders the collective economic and social good generated by public colleges and universities. Attendees will be equipped with the financing strategies and policies requisite to ensuring public colleges remain affordable, publicly-funded and of high quality, enabling them to remain stewards of their communities and states.

Conference participants will also hear the very latest developments in state higher education funding and policy as well as federal legislation and regulations emanating from Congress and the Obama administration impacting colleges and universities. 

About the Conference

Now in its 22nd year, the Higher Education Government Relations Conference is the premier annual professional development venue for government relations and public affairs professionals who work on behalf of public higher education institutions, systems, coordinating/governing boards and policy organizations. The conference reflects a unique partnership among four national higher education associations: the American Association of Community Colleges, American Association of State Colleges and Universities, Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education.  The conference is coordinated by government relations staff from these associations and the Task Force on Higher Education Government Relations, comprised of state governmental affairs professionals representing the entire spectrum of American public postsecondary education. 


The 2015 Higher Education Government Relations Conference serves as an exceptional venue for generating product/service visibility and professional networking.

Download Sponsorship Prospectus (pdf) to learn more about conference sponsorship opportunities
Download Sponsorship Application Form (pdf)

Schedule top

Preliminary Schedule

Check back for program updates

Wednesday, December 9

3:00 p.m.— 3:15 p.m. 
Conference Opening

Claire Rosacco
, Chair, 2015 Task Force on Higher Education Government Relations & Vice President, Government Relations & Community Outreach at Cuyahoga Community College (Ohio)

3:15 p.m.— 4:15 p.m.  
Plenary Session: Championing the Public Good of Higher Education in an Era of Polarization, Privatization, and Change

A growing emphasis on individual benefits of higher education has gradually overshadowed the broader public benefits of higher education. The movement away from higher education as a public good reached an apex this year, as a state political leader attempted to remove from statute the longstanding public purpose mission of one of the nation’s leading public university systems. While this effort was unsuccessful, it exemplified an alarming indifference, if not outright antipathy, among some state political leaders toward the public purposes of higher education. It also signaled prospective uncertainty over the future and the very mission of public colleges and universities. This session features one of the most insightful and accomplished leaders in public higher education, who will address the condition of higher education as a public good in an era of political polarization and economic privatization.  

Thomas W. Ross, President, University of North Carolina

4:15 p.m.— 5:15 p.m. 
Plenary Session: Decision 2016: What the Presidential Campaign Means for Higher Education

While higher education has long been a third-tier issue for presidential candidates, widespread concerns over college affordability and student debt have pushed higher education policy to the forefront of the 2016 race. Candidates from both major parties have outlined a series of bold policy prescriptions, ranging from “debt free” college to overhauling accreditation. Learn more from national experts about how higher education has evolved as a national political issue, perspectives on current policy challenges and solutions offered by the candidates, philosophical differences on the best federal approach to higher education policy issues, and what this race will could mean for students and campuses starting in January 2017. 

Andrew Kelly
, Resident Scholar in Educational Policy Studies, American Enterprise Institute
Mark Huelsman
, Senior Policy Analyst, Demos
Danielle Douglas-Gabriel, Reporter, The Washington Post (moderator) 

5:45 p.m.—7:30 p.m. 
Reception at LBJ Presidential Library

Thursday, December 10

7:15 a.m.—8:00 a.m.

8:00 a.m.— 8:15 a.m.  
Plenary Session: Update on Voluntary System of Accountability and Voluntary Framework of Accountability

Christine Keller
Vice President for Research and Policy Analysis, Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities (APLU), and Executive Director, Voluntary System of Accountability (VSA) and Student Achievement Measure
Jim Hermes, Associate Vice President of Government Relations, AACC

College Portrait (Link

8:15 a.m.— 9:15 a.m.  
Plenary Session: Demonstrating the Value of a College Education: The Post-Collegiate Outcomes Initiative

State funding reductions of recent years and the subsequent increases in tuition prices and student debt levels have led some to question the value of individual and state investments in public higher education. In responding to these questions, many have defended higher education’s value in strictly economic terms, ignoring the broad-based contribution of higher education to individuals and communities. Learn more about the Post-Collegiate Outcomes national initiative from AACC, APLU and AASCU, designed to broaden the conversation about post-collegiate outcomes by providing a framework with metrics and indicators that account for the diverse economic and social returns of higher education to individuals and communities.   

Christine Keller, Vice President for Research and Policy Analysis, Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities (APLU) and Executive Director, Voluntary System of Accountability and Student Achievement Measure
Jonathan Alger, President, James Madison University (VA)
David Troutman, Director of Strategic Initiatives, University of Texas System 

Keller Powerpoint (Link)
PCO Summary (Link

9:15 a.m.— 10:30 a.m.
Plenary Session: Leadership, Higher Education and the Public Good

America’s public higher education system was built—and funded—on the ideal that public colleges and universities were central to state economic, political and societal advancement. This belief by preceding generations of state and federal policymakers gave rise to unprecedented expansion of economic prosperity and social mobility. Decades of state disinvestment in public higher education, however, has shifted the college cost burden and left alarming ramifications for future generation. From a historical and global context, Dr. Suri will discuss higher education as a public good and the role that leadership—on the part of both policymakers and higher education leaders—must play to ensure that public higher education as a public good will once again be held as a value by the American public and elected representatives. 

Jeremi Suri, Mack Brown Distinguished Professor for Global Leadership, History, and Public Policy, University of Texas-Austin

10:45-11:55 a.m.
Concurrent Sessions

Policy Track: State and Federal Free Community College Plans: The Good, the Bad, and the Unknown

At the beginning of the year, President Obama elevated state-level experiments with tuition-free community college to the national level with a call to provide free, universal access to community college. While this proposal has not gained much traction on Capitol Hill, Democratic presidential contenders have embraced the concept. Outside the Beltway, more states are both approving and exploring avenues to tuition-free community college. In enacted, these proposals could re-arrange college choices and enrollment patterns, with potential significant implications for all segments of public higher education. This session will examine federal and state free community college proposals and the ramifications of these policies for students, community colleges, and other institutions of higher education. 


Adela Soliz, Fellow, Brookings Institution
Emily House
, Assistant Executive Director of Policy, Planning, and Research, Tennessee Higher Education Commission
Jim Hermes, Associate VP of Government Relations, American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) 

House Powerpoint (Link)
Soliz Powerpoint (Link

Advocacy Track: Case Studies in Effective Higher Education Government Relations    

As states emerge from the recession of the earlier half of the decade, re-investing in higher education remains one of many competing priorities seeking new state revenue to make up past cuts. In this environment, campus- and system-level government relations professionals will not only need to use all their available resources to make an effective case for investing in higher education, but be creative and strategic in building a comprehensive state relations campaign. Learn more about successful state relations campaigns from leading professionals in the field.

Karen Zamarripa, Assistant Vice Chancellor, Advocacy and State Relations, The California State University
Jonathan Alger, President, James Madison University (VA)
Lynn McGee, Vice President for Advancement and External Relations, University of South Carolina Beaufort

Zamarripa Powerpoint (Link)
McGee Powerpoint (Link

12 noon-1:30 p.m.
State Relations Awards Luncheon

1:30 p.m.- 2:45 p.m. 
Plenary Session: Working Effectively with Gubernatorial Administrations to Advance the Higher Education Agenda

Effective working relationships with governors’ offices and gubernatorial administrations are essential to advancing the higher education agenda. Beyond traditional higher education funding and policy issues, campus government relations officers must work with state agency leaders and gubernatorial appointees across state government in a coordinated effort to address state needs and advance the institutional agenda. Hear from officials with years of experience in gubernatorial administration about how campus and system state relations officers can effectively collaborate with governor’s offices and administrations to maximize the capacity of colleges and universities to deliver on their missions in service to their states.    

Scott Jenkins, State Policy Director, Lumina Foundation
Mike Nietzel, Senior Policy Advisor, Governor Jay Nixon
Dietra Trent
, Deputy Secretary of Education, Commonwealth of Virginia

3:00 p.m.- 4:15 p.m. 
Plenary Session: Washington Update: Briefing on Federal Legislation and Policy Issues

Federal government relations staff members from the conference’s four sponsoring associations will provide the very latest involving federal higher education policy and funding priorities and political dynamics on Capitol Hill and in the Obama Administration. Higher Education Act reauthorization, federal student aid reform, campus sexual assault, veterans education and federal efforts to promote institutional accountability will be among the many topics that will be addressed. 

Jennifer Poulakidas
Vice President for Congressional and Governmental Affairs, APLU
Barmak Nassirian,
Director of Federal Relations and Policy Analysis, AASCU
Jim Hermes,
Associate Vice President of Government Relations, AACC
Brian Flahaven,
Director of Government Relations, CASE

Friday, December 11

8:00 a.m.— 11:15 a.m.
Conference Programming and Closing

7:30 - 9:00 a.m. 
Breakfast Affinity Sessions

Community Colleges
Public Comprehensives
Public Research
Systems & Board

9:00 - 10:00 a.m. 
New Campus, State, and Federal Policy Initiatives to Address Campus Sexual Assault

From the White House to student dormitories, a national conversation is taking place about policies and programs to help prevent campus sexual assault, provide support services to victims, and appropriately adjudicate allegations of these crimes. This issue remains complex, with an array of campus, state, and federal policies and protocols that need to act in unison to ensure student safety and due process. Learn from leading experts about the latest conversations in Washington to change federal campus safety laws, along with new state- and campus-level policy initiatives and programs aimed at ensuring student safety. This session will also provide high-level guidance on key matters to consider when drafting policy on this issue.

Makese Motley, Assistant Director of Federal Relations, American Association of State Colleges and Universities
Jessica Todtman, Executive Director of Government Relations and Policy, State University of New York (SUNY) System Administration
Sharyn Potter, Co-Director, Preventions Innovations Research Center, University of New Hampshire

Motley Powerpoint (Link)
Todtman Powerpoint (Link)  
Potter Powerpoint (Link)

10:00 - 11:00 a.m. 
State Outlook: Summary of 2015 Higher Education Legislative and Funding Outcomes, and 2016 Economic and Policy Forecast

Get the latest insight on economic conditions and forecasts that may affect state revenues in the near future, and which may in turn impact state financial support for higher education, state student aid programs and capital outlays. Learn about the outcomes of the 2015 state legislative sessions and the political and policy dynamics that will affect public higher education in 2016.

Scott Pattison, Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer, National Governors Association (NGA) 
Thomas Harnisch
, Director of State Relations, American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU)

Pattison Powerpoint (Link)
Harnisch Powerpoint (Link
Harnisch-State Outlook (Link

11:00 a.m-11:15 a.m.
Conference Closing

Fees top

Early Registration - $475 (By November 6, 2015) 
Late Registration  - $550 (By December 2, 2015)

Registration Information top

How to Register
Please select among the two options below:

Accommodations top


110 East 2nd Street
Austin, Texas
Hotel website

AASCU’s room block at the JW Marriott Austin is sold out.  Please use the link or phone number below to reserve a conference rate $179 room at the overflow hotel: Courtyard Residence Inn Austin Downtown Convention Center.  The Courtyard Residence Inn Austin Downtown Convention Center is at 300 E. 4th Street, Austin--a short walk to the JW Marriott (about 3 blocks or .3 miles).

Book your group rate for HEGRC

Phone reservations:  1-800-321-2211; reference HEGRC - Higher Education Government Relations Conference.

The JW Marriott Austin is located in downtown, in the heart of the city, near restaurants and shops, and approximately15 minutes transfer from Austin International Airport. 

Reserve well before Friday, November 13, 2015 when rooms are released.  Once AASCU’s rooms are filled, alternatives, including overflow rooms, will be listed on AASCU’s website.

Room Rates
Rooms are $179 for single or double occupancy, plus +13%, +1.75% tourism support assessment + $2 city occupancy) room tax.
Call 1-888-236-2427 and reference AASCU’s Annual Meeting

Online reservations

  • Select your guest type by selecting Attendee
  • Enter your preferred dates
  • Select FIND room

You can make reservations online if your stay is in the December 8 - 11 window of the room block.

If you wish to book before or after the conference room block, wish to upgrade your room type at a higher rate, or if your online reservation fails (rooms may be sold out on one of your preferred nights), please call the hotel reservations office directly for assistance 512-474-4777.  Room type is not guaranteed since it is based upon availability at the time of your reservation.

A first night deposit is required to confirm a reservation. Indicate any disability-related requirements or special preferences when making your reservation. The JW Marriott Hotel reservations department will work to accommodate your requests.

If you have any questions, please email Leslie Heath heathl@aascu.org (M, W, F) or leave a voice message 202.478.4694 and we will get back to you as soon as we can.

Thank you!


Cancellation & Refund Policytop

  • Cancel in writing by Nov. 21st to receive full refund.
  • Cancellations received after Nov. 21st will be charged a $150 administration fee that will be used to pay for meals and services already guaranteed at the hotel.
  • Cancellations received after Dec. 1st will not be refunded.



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