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Simon touts affordable college 

 
The Southern Illinoisan
October 16, 2012
By Stephen Rickerl

CARBONDALE — In an effort to find ways to make higher education more affordable to students in Illinois, Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon is hosting a number of summits at public universities statewide.

Simon is hosting a series of College Affordability Summits at public universities and colleges in Illinois, calling on state, federal and higher education leaders to increase transparency, target state aid and support federal tax credit for middle class families to make college affordable for students.

Simon said the average cost for public universities has outpaced family income and available aid, which is a 128 percent increase since 1980 when adjusted for inflation.

Simon was at SIU on Monday to speak with students; in her discussion she learned the students know classmates who have left school to work with the hope of earning enough to re-enroll.

She said the hope is the summits might identify how federal, state, college and university officials might work better with the resources they have to keep college affordable, which will ultimately allow more students to graduate.

“It’s just more evidence that we have some work to do, and I hope that by visiting around the state, we’ll be able to develop a greater sense of why investment in higher education is a really good thing for the state; it’s the kind of investment we need to make to have a long-term economic development pay off,” said Simon.

Simon advocated for more investment in College Choice Reports, which is a cross-institution standardized report that helps students analyze cost of attendance, graduation rates, rate of success in job placement and debt accrued.

Simon also serves on the MAP Eligibility Task Force. The lieutenant governor said she doesn’t see more money coming for MAP grants, but there could be a change in the first-come, first-served priority of the grant issuance.

Under the current award priorities, Simon said a parent working to arrange child care to attend classes, or a person in the workforce who is laid off shortly before classes start, often miss out on the grants because of the first-come, first-served basis of the grants.

Simon said the ultimate goal of the summits is to show the value in higher education and how it will help Illinois achieve internationally.

“As there are pressures that will only increase in our state budget, we’re going to need to make tough choices,” she said. “Part of my message in going around to these schools is to say that let’s make sure people understand the value of higher education, that it’s not just an investment for that student, but it’s how we make our state competitive on a global basis.”

College Affordability Summits are scheduled for Oct. 18 at Illinois State University and Western Illinois University, and Oct. 19 at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. Additional locations will be announced at a later date.

— The Southern’s Paul Newton contributed to this report.