Community colleges say they're forced to rely more on federal grants

Elgin Community College President David Sam says with state funding for higher education in a flux, community colleges are relying more on federal grants than ever before.

Sam and five other suburban community college presidents who are part of U.S. Rep. Randy Hultgren's Higher Education Advisory Committee recently met in Elgin to talk about pressing higher education issues.

ECC's overall budget comprises 30 percent from state funding and 15 percent in federal grants.

The college is owed $363,751 in state Monetary Award Program (MAP) grant funding for spring of 2016. The total state appropriation in the stopgap budget for adult education was $842,238, which also is pending, officials said.

Meanwhile, ECC has been awarded nearly $1.2 million in federal funding over five years to help low-income, minority, and first-generation immigrant students in middle and high schools graduate and continue postsecondary education. Starting this year, ECC will receive $239,538 yearly through the U.S. Department of Education's Talent Search Program. The money will fund services including academic, career and financial counseling for 500 students at Dundee-Crown, Elgin, Larkin and Streamwood high schools and their feeder middle schools.

ECC also will receive nearly $2 million in Title 3 grant funding for strengthening college over five years.

"You can't take things for granted," Sam said. "When we have financial challenges you want to be sure that programs that are at the heart of what you do. ... The resources are available."

Committee members discussed an overhaul of the Higher Education Act, which likely won't be reauthorized until after the presidential election, career and technical education, the Department of Labor's new overtime rule, and the impact of nearly $1.3 trillion in student loan debt among 43 million borrowers.

"We tackled important issues, such as transparency in student loans, regulation compliance requirements for managing federal student aid, promoting workforce development and career readiness and meeting the needs of a diverse and changing student population," Hultgren said.

Hultgren introduced the Transparency in Student Lending Act, which requires the disclosure of the annual percentage rate at the time of application for a federal student loan. Currently, borrowers of private student loans receive this information, but borrowers of loans issued by the U.S. Department of Education do not.

The group also discussed the impact of ITT Technical Institute's closing of 137 campuses nationwide, including those in Arlington Heights, Oak Brook and Orland Park affecting 35,000 students.

The U.S. Department of Education had been investigating the for-profit school and has offered stranded students two options, if they have loans. Students could have the ITT loan forgiven but would lose their credits and have to start over, or they could pay off the ITT student loan and get a new loan to finish at a new school. Several colleges, including ECC and College of DuPage, have pledged to ease the transfer process for ITT students.

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