Illinois Dem Touts Grants, Loan Reforms at Parkland

April 2, 2010
CHAMPAIGN – Sen. Dick Durbin visited Parkland College on Thursday to tout expanded Pell grants for students and reforms that take private banker "middlemen" out of the student loan process.

Pressed on a state issue, the Illinois Democrat said it's time to stop cutting education funding. The state cuts will have "a negative impact for years to come" and need to be reversed through a revenue increase.

Durbin declined to be pinned down on whether he supports Gov. Pat Quinn's proposed income tax increase. "I'm in Washington," he said.

On Pell grants, Durbin said more money will be available to students in part because less money will go to bankers.

"We're cutting out the middleman and using the federal dollars we save to make college more affordable for 8.5 million more students," the senator said.

The changes are in the Health Care and Education Reconciliation bill. Durbin said they correct problems that go back to 1965, which gave commercial bankers like Sallie Mae a subsidy to lend money to students.

Durbin said that subsidy was unfair, because the government guarantees the loan, so the banks were getting a cut without incurring any risk.

About 265,000 Illinois students use Pell grants, which they don't have to repay as with student loans. Durbin said Illinois will receive an additional $313.5 million in return for raising the maximum grant from $5,550 to $5,975 by the year 2017, and for helping to fund an additional 23,720 such grants to Illinois students.

The federal bill includes $36 billion over the next decade for Pell grants. It also includes $2 billion for community colleges to improve their education and career training programs; $2.55 billion to historically black colleges, $39 million going to this state; and $750 million for College Access Challenge Grants, $23 million of which goes to this state.

Durbin said, however, that college costs are growing faster than college aid.

Following the visit to Parkland, Durbin stopped at Creative Thermal Solutions in Urbana to learn more about "Hummingbird" cooling vests the company is developing for the Army.

The company, which does applied research in air-conditioning and refrigeration, has received $1.8 million in government contracts to develop a lighter-weight, more-efficient way to cool soldiers in the field.