Duke University recently joined the lineup of higher education institutions boosting their presence in the nation’s capital.
The nation’s colleges and universities have steadily been increasing their spending in Washington, D.C., for more than a decade.
Viveca Novak, spokeswoman for the Center for Responsive Politics, said universities use lobbyists in order to protect funding for federal agencies providing grants.
“The fact that some schools are opening permanent offices in D.C. reflects that times are getting tighter,” Novak said. “Federal money is more important than ever.”
“Universities have always lobbied the federal government, usually in connection with federal funds for research,” Novak said.
More than $107 million was spent on lobbying in 2011 — which is nearly $40 million more than the amount spent 10 years ago.
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the UNC system spent $473,554 on lobbying efforts in 2011. The system spent $210,000 in 1999, when it opened its permanent office federal relations office in Washington.
Duke spent $442,165 on lobbying in 2011 — more than a twofold increase since 2001.
Duke’s new office, known as Duke in Washington, doubles as an office for lobbyists and an academic building where research takes place and courses are taught.
“We had a lot programs going on and wanted to consolidate resources,” said Chris Simmons, associate vice president of federal relations at Duke.
Simmons said the school’s lobbyists used to sublet office space in Washington but the new office will enhance Duke’s visibility on policy issues.
He said he does not expect the cost of lobbying to increase as a result of the new office.
“We’re going to have a big impact because of the physical presence,” he said.
UNC-system Vice President for Federal Relations Kimrey Rhinehardt said UNC has maintained a permanent presence in Washington since 1999.
Despite the costs associated with keeping an office, Rhinehardt said it is a very cost-effective allocation of resources.
“You are getting a return on your investment pretty easily,” she said.
“If you increase the amount of money going into the National Institute of Health or Department of Energy so our researchers have access to research dollars, then we have more than paid for ourselves.”
Rhinehardt said the system’s two biggest lobbying concerns are increasing financial aid for students and federal funding for research, although university lobbyists have argued on many other issues as well.
Simmons said Duke’s current lobbying efforts are focused partially on keeping interest rates on student loans low, promoting tax benefits for families and modifying immigration policies to make it easier for international students to come to the U.S.
He said he spends a lot of time lobbying for agencies such as the National Science Foundation — which gives research grants to professors.
“My jobs is to make sure there is as much money as possible in research agency funding so they have money to give us,” he said.
Simmons said the increased lobbying efforts on issues pertaining to higher education will benefit students, and the price is well worth it.
“It’s not just about money,” he said. “It’s about positive policies that support higher education and our students and faculty.”
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