August 14, 2019 by 2019-2020 Equity & Diversity Task Force, 2019-2020 Sustainability & Resiliency Task Force, 2020-2021 Council of Global Representatives, 2020-2021 Learning & Teaching Culture Advisory Group, 2021-2022 Professional Development Advisory Group

The theme of our most recent Grassroots leadership conference was all about amplifying leadership, design, and service. Throughout the three day conference, AIAS members got to listen to inspiring speakers while simultaneously participating in efforts that turned those words into action and helped to build a better tomorrow. In no better way was the theme of Grassroots 2019 exemplified than in our first-ever AIAS Student Capitol Hill Day!

A total of 55 students from across the country, alongside members from AIA’s Advocacy Team, gathered to discuss the pertinence of student loan debt with members of Congress and their staff. Specifically, our collective task of action was to generate congressional support for the Retirement Parity for Student Loans Act (S. 1428). This, if passed, would allow employers to count an employee’s payment toward their student loan debt as a matching contribution to the employee’s retirement plan.

Architecture students on average graduate with a significantly higher amount of student loan debt than the national average. Additionally, those new graduates who choose to pursue licensure must then undergo years of earning experience in the field and passing a rigorous series of examinations – a process that can require significant sacrifice and keep these graduates from being able to make any significant dent to their loans. Given these conditions, it’s no wonder 42% of Americans between the ages of 18-29 have no retirement savings whatsoever. For many, the idea of saving for retirement has become too unrealistic and unattainable.

As architecture students and leaders, we felt that our voice could offer unique perspective on why this issue is of such pressing relevance. Legislation that would continue letting employers invest in the future of their employees so those employees can focus on investing in their present is a great incremental step in ensuring that emerging professionals, both in architecture and otherwise, can have a future that is worth investing in.

After spending the morning reviewing talking points and assembling various strategies, the groups headed to the Capitol for a series of prescheduled meetings with their local members of Congress and/or staff. Getting to share our unique stories on how student debt has impacted us with people who could actually move the needle on this issue proved to be an extremely motivating experience for all who participated.

Though the ultimate fate of the bill has yet to be determined, it is empowering to know that we chose not to sit by as mere observers, but to stand up and amplify our voices on the issues so important to us.