Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon to visit NIU Friday, meet students, promote affordable higher education

Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon
Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon

Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon will visit the NIU Latino Resource Center Friday, Nov. 16, as part of a statewide tour to promote affordable higher education.

Simon, who is Gov. Pat Quinn’s point person on education reform, is urging state, federal and higher education leaders to work together to keep college affordable. Such collaboration could enable  thousands of Illinois students to earn the credentials needed for good-paying jobs.

“As a nation and a state, we need to make higher education affordability a higher priority,” Simon said. “We’ve set a goal to have 60 percent of working-age adults hold college credentials by 2025. To reach our completion goal, we must make college more affordable. College cannot be accessible only to the privileged, when it is a prerequisite for a good-paying job here in Illinois.”

The goal is to stabilize the cost for public universities and community colleges, following tuition and fee increases that have outpaced inflation, family incomes and available aid over the past 20 years.

To pay the bills, students racked up an average of $26,682 in student loans in 2010, up 14.3 percent from three years earlier and more than double what they owed in 1995, according to a recent Pew Research Center report.

Noemi Rodriguez
Noemi Rodriguez

When Simon’s College Affordability Summit comes to the Latino Resource Center, she will meet several NIU students, including sophomore nursing major and LRC intern Noemi Rodriguez.

Rodriguez, an honors student who carries a 3.8 GPA, has been recognized by the faculty and staff of the College of Human Health and Sciences for outstanding academic achievements. She helped to establish the first Latino Honor Society at NIU and is also an active member.

Meanwhile, the Latino Resource Center has been deeply committed to preparing faculty, staff and administrators to effectively support undocumented students. Additionally, the LRC has worked in close collaboration with DREAM Action NIU, a student-led organization that aims to increase awareness and support for undocumented students.

Simon also will meet eight other NIU students:

  • Nicholas Bender
  • Daihee Cho
  • Shondell Coleman
  • Elizabeth Elie
  • Gina Gregolunas
  • Nicole Jessen
  • Christina Mota
  • Stephen Samuels

During her college tour so far, Simon has outlined three ways higher education, state and federal leaders could work together to keep college affordable.

Consumer protections

Stack of money next to rulerSimon supports House Bill 5248State Rep. Robert Pritchard, whose district includes NIU, is among the sponsors – which would require all degree-granting institutions that operate in Illinois to publish online College Choice Reports. The reports would contain information such as net costs, average debt and completion rates in an easy-to-read and easy-to-find format.

Unlike the federally proposed “shopping sheet” which provides cost information after a student applies to a school, the College Choice Report would be available to students online before they apply, to help them find a college or university that fits their needs and their budget.

Targeted assistance

To better use state resources, Simon wants strengthen the Monetary Award Program and insure MAP grants promote college attendance and completion and reduce the achievement gap between low-income and higher-income students. MAP grants are currently awarded on a first-come, first-served basis to students based on financial need, but state funding reaches only about half of eligible students. A MAP Eligibility Task Force is evaluating ways to improve distributional equity and encourage timely degree completion.

Tax relief for middle class families

More than 9 million students and families are taking advantage of the American Opportunity Tax Credit, saving them up to $10,000 over four years of college. Simon supports making this federal tax credit permanent and preventing it from expiring at the end of this year.

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