Earlier this week, Erik Bergrud, associate vice president of constituent engagement for Park University was part of the delegation for the biennial KC Chamber Washington D.C. Fly-In. The three-day (April 28-30) trip gives leaders throughout the greater Kansas City area the opportunity to meet face-to-face with the lawmakers serving the region. We sat down with Erik for a brief recap of his trip.
How long has Park University been involved with the KC Chamber?
Park’s been a chamber member for years, and I’ve been actively involved with the Chamber’s legislative committee since I returned to Park in 2005.
How did you become involved in this year’s Fly-In?
I attended the fly-in two years ago, and I think it’s a great opportunity for all Kansas City organizations, including higher education institutions, to get to know their elected officials more personally, and to know the key issues that impact our students and our institution.
Are there any other institutions as involved as Park University?
The fly-in occurs every other year, so the last time we went was in 2012. During the 2012 trip, if memory serves, there were three academic institutions on the trip – KU Med, UMKC and us – but this time I was the only one there.
On the surface, only one piece Chamber’s message plan directly affects higher education. Why was it so important for Park to be represented?
Let me look at that in two ways: in terms of the issues that were involved, and also in terms of Park’s position in the broader civic community.
In terms of the issues, there are a couple of key issues that affect the university in total. There’s talk in Washington about what’s going to happen with the military and veterans. As you know, we had the government shutdown that impacted our students in the fall and there’s discussion about drawdown of troop levels and the impact it will have on military installations in 2015. Obviously, we’re paying close attention since we have campus centers in 21 states. This is a big issue for Park University.
We also heard – even though it wasn’t in the formal agenda of why we went to DC – that the Higher Education Act is going to be reauthorized in the next couple of years, and that there’s been discussion throughout Washington about creating a federal scorecard for universities. We were able to be a part of this discussion, and have a question and answer session with our elected officials.
Looking at the broader civic community, the fact that we were the only higher education institution there was significant because it allowed me time to get to know better executives – in some cases CEOs – of Kansas City corporations. That has multiple benefits for the university, particularly when looking at career opportunities for our students and alumni.
What are the takeaways?
I’ve already been able to brief Park’s executive staff on some of the big discussion items from Washington. But there are other issues that affect Park University as an employer and an organization that aren’t necessarily related to higher education. For example – changes in the utility market which are predicted could have an impact on the electricity bills that Park pays, and ultimately that’s a bottom line question.
We also will be watching closely the elections coming this fall and how that might change who is in control on Capitol Hill. One of the big takeaways we heard from this trip is that the executive branch – regardless of who’s in power come next January – will probably get a little bit more assertive in terms of what they can and can’t do. So we’re going to look very closely at what the Department of Education does and what some of the other agencies do in terms of regulations that could impact us and/or our students.
Members of the KC Chamber Fly-In delegation pose with congressional staffers for a group photo. In addition to Park’s Erik Bergrud, the delegation included KC Chamber President and CEO Jim Heeter; Dane Stangler, Vice President – Research & Policy for the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation; and Abigail Wendel, Senior Vice President/Director of Investor & Government Relations for UMB Financial Corporation.