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UC Advocacy Network: Championing UC’s mission in California, Washington, D.C. and beyond

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Have you ever wished for people to shout from their figurative rooftops in support of UC’s mission of education, research and public service? Meet the UC Advocacy Network (UCAN), a grassroots community of students, staff, faculty, alumni and supporters — more than 45,000 strong — who lend their voices to shape state and federal policies that support UC.

UCAN launches a variety of digital campaigns throughout the year and makes it easy for people to call, email and tweet at lawmakers. It also shares opportunities to sign petitions and pledges, all of which help bring the UCAN community together in support of key issues facing UC. Campaigns have spanned the gamut of the university’s interests, from championing medical research funding and university-related COVID-19 relief to seeking citizenship status for undocumented students — and currently, partnering with the UC Student Association (UCSA) to lead a nationwide effort to double the value of the Pell Grant.

“As a UC graduate myself, it’s incredibly rewarding to have a career focused on helping the university achieve its goals and support the next generation of UC grads,” says Nicole Carlotto, director of communications and advocacy for UC’s Office of Federal Governmental Relations and lead for UC’s federal UCAN advocacy efforts. “Through UCAN, we are able to reach thousands of people passionate about UC and eager to help advance issues important to the University, such as protecting DACA recipients and ensuring critical state investments.”

Funds that make higher education happen

Pell Grants are the main way the U.S. government helps low-income students afford college, but their value is going down: In 1980, a Pell Grant could cover more than 75% of the cost to attend a four-year public university. Today — due to inflation, rising college costs and the ever-increasing cost of living  — the maximum award covers around 28%. UC and UCSA are asking Congress to double Pell to restore the grant’s positive impact on students’ lives.

Why does it matter? The Pell Grant program was started to ensure that anyone who wants to earn a college degree could afford to do so. And, since most of the 7 million students who receive Pell Grants each year come from households with annual family incomes of $50,000 or less, the funds they currently earn through this grant (the maximum award is $6,345) barely make a dent in college affordability. 

“I work two jobs in order to pay rent and groceries, leaving little time for my homework,” shared Arianna Romero, who hopes to graduate from UC Irvine in 2023. She’s not alone. Low-income students must often choose between working grueling jobs while completing their degree, assuming a great deal of debt or skipping college altogether.

Even students who receive university aid on top of Pell Grants can struggle to pay for basic needs like food, housing and health care. By doubling the maximum award to $13,000, these students will have more financial security. It will also allow colleges and universities to stretch their financial aid packages to more middle-income families that do not qualify for Pell Grants.

“Doubling the Pell is an investment in students’ dreams, the community and the end to a cycle of having the dream but not being able to afford it,” shared Lisseth Lopez Ponce, a 2021 graduate of UC Merced.

Engaging the university community

UC and UCSA began rolling out their multifaceted Double the Pell campaign across the UC system in fall 2020, working with campus student leaders, government relations directors and financial aid offices to hold student webinars, during which they shared information about the campaign and engaged campus support. 

Double the Pell officially launched to campuses, alumni networks, social media networks, in the UCAN community and in Washington, D.C., in February 2021 with an email petition. In the inaugural message, then-UCSA President Aidan Arasasingham wrote, “Disinvestment and inflation, coupled with the financial instability brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, have made higher education less attainable for many Americans. We must stop this trend in its tracks, and put every college student on the path to an affordable education.” Later emails were authored by UC students, including UC Graduate and Professional Council President Gwen Chodur. To date, more than 10,000 people have signed the Double the Pell petition — making it UCAN’s third-most successful campaign ever.

In April, UCAN Student Ambassadors participated in a day of advocacy meetings with the California congressional delegation. Twenty ambassadors from seven UC campuses met with 13 congressional offices, including member meetings with Reps. Jerry McNerney, Salud Carbajal and Mike Levin. In May, the campaign encouraged advocates to contact federal lawmakers directly. More than 1,500 advocates sent more than 3,800 emails to Congress — including to every member of the California congressional delegation. 

Over the summer, UC and USCA began asking UCAN advocates to share how Pell has benefited them. Current and former recipients, undergraduate and graduate, are encouraged to describe how their Pell Grant helped them achieve their goals through a #PowerOfPell social media effort on Twitter and Facebook, as well as an online form. These powerful personal narratives will be shared with Congress. 

Our nationwide impact

UC isn’t alone in its efforts to persuade the federal government to expand Pell Grant funding — and engagement from association, university and congressional partners remains key.

In late March, all 10 UC campuses, UCSA and the UC Graduate and Professional Council joined nearly 1,200 colleges, universities and higher education organizations in signing a coalition letter urging Congress to reinvest in the Pell Grant program by doubling its maximum award. Soon after, a coalition of higher education associations collectively known as the Double Pell Alliance launched a website with news, resources and advocacy tools to help institutions mobilize their campus communities, including students, in support of doubling the maximum Pell Grant. UC is proud to support this effort and works alongside the coalition to further its shared goals.

 Progress is happening: President Biden’s fiscal year 2022 budget request included a $400 increase for the maximum Pell Grant. And although the House and Senate are still in the appropriations process that will determine the Pell Grant maximum award for academic year 2022-23, the House has passed a bill that increases it by $400. President Biden’s American Families Plan proposes an additional $1,400 increase in the maximum annual Pell Grant award, which will likely be included in a larger social infrastructure package along with other investments in education, research and health care.

“It’s inspiring to see the UCAN community and so many university organizations rally together to raise awareness around the need for more Pell Grant funding,” Carlotto says. “While there’s still a lot of work to be done, we can help move the needle so that UC students have what they need to succeed in college.”

Help champion UC’s mission

In the coming months, it will be critical for members of Congress to hear from their constituents — particularly university community members — about the importance of Pell.

UCAN will be launching new opportunities for university supporters to get involved. If you’re not already a member of UCAN, make sure to sign up today. Already a member? Keep an eye on your email for new opportunities to advocate. Visit the UCAN website and, connect with other UC advocates on social media — you can find UCAN on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. “UCAN makes it easy to have your voice heard,” says Carlotto. “We believe that together, we can create change – and we hope you’ll join us!”

For questions, contact advocacy@ucop.edu.

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