Sen. Durbin promotes Pell Grants at Quincy University

Quincy Herald-Whig
May 2, 2010
By: Rodney Hart

Without a Pell Grant, Javier Lofton-Knox would likely not be finishing his freshman year at Quincy University.

Lofton-Knox and sophomore Dan LaRocco told their stories Saturday at Quincy University's Brenner Library during a press conference hosted by U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin to promote new Pell Grant opportunities.

"I'm thankful to be here and I'm thankful I've had a chance to be a recipient," said Lofton-Knox, a criminal justice and human service major from the Chicago suburb of Dalton. "Now I'm getting a degree and a better life."

Durbin said an overhaul of the nation's 45-year student loan program will give more students access to more Pell Grants. The provisions, part of the recent health care legislation, force commercial banks out of the student loan business.

"It eliminates the banks and now $6 million to $8 million more will be available," Durbin said. "It will help reduce our deficit and it will increase Pell Grants from $5,300 a year to almost $6,000 a year (by 2017).

"It will lessen the debt on students and allow them to go to school."

Durbin said about 265,000 students in Illinois get Pell Grant money. Illinois will receive an additional $313.5 million, and help fund an additional 23,720 Pell Grants.

Students in the "critical need" majors like nursing and education will never have to pay more than 10 percent of their income repaying the loans, and after 10 years the balance will be forgiven.

"I rely heavily on financial aid," said LaRocco, a pre-law student at QU. "Getting a Pell Grant is quite an honor -- it shows the government is interested in what I'm doing and they consider me a worthy investment."

QU President Robert Gervasi and John Wood Community College President Tom Klincar also sang the praises of Pell Grants and additional financial aid opportunities for students.

Gervasi sad more than 500 QU students receive Pell Grants, and that number should climb 10 percent with the new legislation.

"It's about $2 million this year, and that would have an incredible impact if not available," Gervasi said.

Klincar said 1,462 JWCC students get Pell Grants equaling $4.2 million.
"It enables a whole generation that may not have had that chance before to attend college," Klincar said.

Durbin said banker Sallie Mae made $309 million in the last quarter of 2009 through the risk-free issuance of student loans. The loans are guaranteed and the government is responsible if students default.

Now students can go directly to the federal government through their school's financial aid departments.

Durbin said it's unfair to saddle students with debt after graduation. Thirty years ago, a Pell Grant could cover up to 77 percent of a public college's costs, but now it covers 30 percent. More than 70 percent of college graduates have debt, with an average debt of $20,000 per student.