It’s not often a key official in Yakima Valley higher education gets a chance to speak to congressional leaders in our nation’s capital, but that was the case this week.

Heritage University President John Bassett testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, & Pensions on Tuesday about the importance of minority-serving institutions. It was the latest hearing in Congress’ push to reauthorize the Higher Education Act of 1965, which reshaped the relationship between the federal government and colleges and universities.

“The U.S. once led the world in having the highest percentage of college graduates, today we rank 12th,” said Sen. Patty Murray during the hearing, D-WA. “If we want to remain globally competitive and expand our college access and completion rates, we should support the education goals of the underrepresented minorities, (which are) the fastest growing U.S. demographic, and we should partner with minority serving institutions like Heritage University.”

Bassett discussed Heritage’s overall mission, the changes made as well as boast of its successes, such as the school’s well-received HU 105 teacher preparation program.

“These young people have amazing potential; yes they’ve been educationally disadvantaged, but they have wonderful potential,” said Bassett on Tuesday.

I spoke with Bassett on Friday to get his thoughts on the trip. He talked about how last minute the request came — last Wednesday they called him to speak and less than a week later he was taking questions from U.S. senators.

At first, Bassett said he was hesitant to say yes because the hearing interfered with his state of the university address. But staff and administrators wouldn’t hear it — they told him to go.

“It was wonderful for Heritage and for Yakima that, for some reaon, I was chosen (to testify),” he said.

He and the other panelists each gave a five-minute statement. After opening remarks, the panelists fielded questions from the committee for about two hours. Bassett said he could tell all the senators had different agendas in mind during the “very collegial discussion.” He noted, for instance, how Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-MA, concerned herself about high student loan debt or how Sen. Tim Scott, R-SC, focused on business partnerships with higher education institutions.

Bassett said he is not sure if legislators will reauthorize the Higher Education Act this year given the near-deadlock conditions on Capitol Hill. That wouldn’t surprise me either.