February 12, 2024

Kilmer Named Winner of Award for Championing Independent Higher Education

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Representative Derek Kilmer (WA-06) received the Award for Advocacy of Independent Higher Education at the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU) 2024 Annual Meeting. The Advocacy Award was established to recognize individuals outside of academia who have championed the cause of independent higher education.

Whether in government, business, or philanthropy, the recipient of this award has provided leadership, established resources, or enacted policy at the state or national level that recognized the role of independent colleges and universities in serving public purposes. According to NAICU, no single contribution makes one eligible to receive the award; rather, it recognizes a lifetime of service, initiative, and determination.

“This recognition isn’t about me. It’s about the transformative power of education that I’ve witnessed throughout my life,” said Rep. Kilmer. “The education I received helped me learn about public service, gave me ideas for helping communities like my hometown, and opened doors to opportunity.”

Rep. Kilmer continued, “I’m grateful for the financial aid that made my college journey possible. That’s why I’ve been a staunch advocate for PELL grants, Federal Work-Study, and Federal Student Aid loan programs. These are lifelines for students across our nation, ensuring that higher education remains accessible for all who dare to dream.”

“Representative Derek Kilmer has worked tirelessly to find consensus and promote bipartisanship in Congress, while staunchly supporting students, families, and the independent sector of higher education during his tenure in the U.S. House of Representatives,” said NAICU President Barbara K. Mistick, D.B.A. “As Co-Chair of the Congressional Independent Colleges Caucus, Representative Kilmer inspired independent college presidents from across the nation to be active participants in the political process. In addition, he reached across the aisle to introduce the Pell Plus Act, legislation to encourage higher education institutions, students, and the federal government to partner toward improving college completion and reduce student debt.”

NAICU included the following citation with Rep. Kilmer’s award:

Experience has taught Rep. Derek Kilmer that addressing the challenges facing our communities and our nation requires setting aside partisanship and to focus on finding common sense, practical solutions. These themes have been hallmarks of his achievements, both in private business and public service. And he believes that understanding begins with listening and listening begins with education.

This commitment to education is what led him to agree to serve as the co-chair of the Congressional Independent Colleges Caucus (CICC) in January 2019. During his tenure, he has attended every CICC annual reception and spoken at numerous NAICU leadership gatherings. Every time he has spoken, he has both inspired us in our work and reminded us of our responsibility to be active participants in the political process.

With 73 members, the caucus serves as an informal group of Members of Congress dedicated to addressing the issues related to private, nonprofit colleges and the students they serve, while educating colleagues on the issues facing independent colleges and universities. He has worked closely with his two Caucus co-chairs— Rep. David Joyce (R - OH) and Rep. Martha Roby (R-AL)—to spotlight our sector and celebrate our contributions to American higher education.

Twice Rep. Kilmer reached across the aisle to introduce or co-sponsor the Pell Plus Act, legislation proposed by NAICU to encourage higher education institutions, students, and the federal government to partner together toward improving college completion and reduce student debt. The legislation would give students who graduate on time the same total amount of federal Pell Grant funds as students who take six years to complete college by doubling federal Pell Grants for on-time students in their junior and senior years.

In a statement accompanying the introduction of the legislation, Rep. Kilmer said: “Education is the door to economic opportunity, and for a lot of families, financial aid programs are the key to that door. Pell Grants are particularly important for middle-class families, but even with that vital support, students and their families often end up saddled with debt. The Pell Plus program we’re proposing will help students complete their college degree on time, provide more financial aid, and lower their debt burden. That’s a win for students, a win for educational institutions, and a win for local employers who are hungry for workers.”

Rep. Kilmer’s schoolteacher parents had long taught him to appreciate the lifelong value of education. But it was the local economic upheaval that occurred during his teen years that led him to become a problem solver. A ban on federal timber sales in the 1990s combined with advances in harvesting and processing productivity severely impacted employment in the timber industry in the Pacific Northwest. For Rep. Kilmer, growing up in Port Angeles, WA, the impact hit close to home. The parents of many of his high school friends lost their jobs.

Looking to make an impact on economically struggling communities like Port Angeles, he chose to study economic development policy at Princeton University’s School of Public and International Affairs and pursue a doctorate from the University of Oxford in England.

Armed with a powerful education, Rep. Kilmer embarked on a career that began in the private sector, then the non-profit sector, and eventually in public service in the Washington State House and later the Senate. His through line has been a commitment to forge common-sense, tangible solutions for the benefit of individuals and communities alike—especially in the area of job creation.

In 2012, he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. Over the course of six terms in Congress he has earned a reputation for problem-solving, bipartisanship and improving the lives of others. He currently serves on the powerful House Committee on Appropriations.

Most notably, Rep. Kilmer chaired the bipartisan Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress which managed to find a bipartisan path forward even in the dark and tense days after the January 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol.

The Modernization Committee departed from conventional Congressional practices by encouraging members of both parties to sit side-by-side, removing the 5-minute question rule, and adopting a roundtable format – building a model of bipartisanship and cooperation. The committee proposed 202 recommendations in areas such as staff recruitment, office budgeting, technology integration, and more—a majority of which were adopted. These efforts not only enhanced the operational efficiency of Congress but also laid the foundation for a permanent Subcommittee on Modernization, ensuring the continuity of these reforms.

With polarization and division in the United States rising over the past decade to the point of threatening our nation’s strength domestically and overseas, Rep. Kilmer led a bipartisan group of 16 House members to introduce the Building Civic Bridges Act, which NAICU has supported. The legislation would establish an Office of Civic Bridgebuilding to coordinate programs focused on revitalization of civic culture in the United States by providing grants, resources, networking, and collaboration opportunities. Similar legislation was introduced in the Senate.

For his tireless commitment to finding consensus, promoting bipartisanship, and for supporting students and families and the independent sector of higher education, NAICU presents the 2024 Advocacy Award to Rep. Derek Kilmer.

Established in 1976, NAICU is a national organization that exclusively focuses on representing private, nonprofit higher education institutions regarding public policy issues in Washington, D.C. It is one of the six major presidential higher education associations, and its membership consists of presidents from accredited private, nonprofit colleges and universities. NAICU’s policy engagement covers student aid, tax policy, and government regulation.

NAICU’s activities include meeting with policymakers, monitoring campus trends, conducting research, analyzing higher education issues, publishing information, coordinating state-level activities, and advising members on legislative and regulatory developments that could impact their institutions. NAICU aims to ensure that the interests of private, nonprofit higher education are considered in policy debates and discussions at both national and state levels.

Details on the history of the NAICU Awards can be found here.

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