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Former Durbin Aide Keeps Focusing on Education in New Gig | Hill Climber

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call
Serra worked on higher education for several Democratic members before making the jump to Higher One, a company that works to provide information to students on debt, loans and financial literary services.

Joanna Serra, formerly a legislative assistant to Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin, is the new manager of government relations for Higher One, a company that works with colleges and universities to provide financial aid refund, bill payment and financial literacy services.

Serra will serve as the liaison between Higher One and federal agencies and Congress, which will be pivotal as Higher One looks to expand its portfolio as the Higher Education Act comes up for reauthorization in 2014. The company is based in New Haven, Conn., but Serra will continue to work from Washington, D.C.

“I personally benefited from federal student aid programs,” said Serra, a graduate of Northeastern University in Boston. “I wanted to help ensure that anyone who wanted to go to college could. I still believe that is true.”

Serra got her start on Capitol Hill working for New York Democratic Reps. Eliot L. Engel and Timothy H. Bishop.

While working for Bishop, formerly provost of Southampton College in New York, she handled his Education and the Workforce Committee portfolio, concentrating on making college more affordable. She served as Bishop’s primary education staffer during the last reauthorization of the Higher Education Act and fought to expand and strengthen existing federal financial aid programs to give more students the chance to go to college. While working for Durbin, Serra’s legislative portfolio focused on reducing student debt. “I had the opportunity to work on real solutions that would help students burdened with debt now and help keep college costs down in the future,” she said.

It was during this time that she connected with Higher One, a rapidly growing company that was started by college students in 2000 to enable access student loan refunds faster via a debit card.

“Higher One’s founders did what a lot of us wish we could do: They saw a problem, had an idea and took a risk starting a small business that grew into a successful business. Everyone agrees that college costs have ballooned and that we must find a way to control costs or middle-class families will be priced out. Embracing technology and innovation is part of the solution and Higher One gets that,” Serra said.

Serra credits her previous congressional bosses — Durbin, Bishop and Engel — as mentors in the fight for keeping college affordable for students. “I was grateful to have the privilege to work for members that really care about students. I had the opportunity to work on policies that would help students burdened with debt now and help keep college costs down in the future.”

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