Durbin expects deal in student loan issue
CHAMPAIGN — Citing a breakdown between the Republican House and Democratic Senate as the reason a deal was not reached to extend low student loan rates, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin on Monday expressed some optimism the two sides could work out a deal.
"I think we're going to work something out," he said to a group of Parkland College administrators and instructors Monday afternoon.
But what that agreement will look like remains to be seen.
"We haven't reached much of a compromise before we left (for the Fourth of July break)," he said. "But I think when more members of Congress hear from families and students, there will be strong inclination to reach an agreement," Durbin said. "It's not over."
Interest rates for subsidized Stafford student loans climbed from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent on Monday. Durbin stressed that those rates are for new loans.
Where the debate broke down, he said, centered on the question of whether or not interest rates should be capped. Pegging student loan rates to the financial markets could cause interest rates to be "astronomical in a few years," he said.
"That does not protect the students and their families. We're trying to figure out an honest way to deal with this, to keep the cost of the loans as low as possible as reasonable as possible. If you let these rates run with the market they can get way beyond the reach of students and their families," Durbin said.
Durbin was in Champaign on Monday afternoon to tour the college's Parkhill Applied Technology Building. He met with college administrators, instructors, industry representatives and others for about 45 minutes to learn about the programs in the building, enrollment, skill gaps, vocational training at high schools, student debt and more.
Officials also took him on a tour of the new building, which opened to students last fall. The $15 million, 67,000-square-foot facility is home to programs in collision repair, industrial technology, welding and more. It was paid for by a combination of state money and a local bond issue. Marilyn and Bergen Parkhill also donated $500,000 to help pay for state-of-the-art equipment in the building.
When touring Kraft Foods about a year ago, Durbin said, he wanted to know why, during a recession, some employers in the state still could not find people to fill certain jobs.
"The answer is the community college. An affordable education and training that prepares this student to become a productive worker. I think there's some dramatic progress being made here," Durbin said.
Parkland College received a federal $1.5 million community-based job training grant to establish an industrial maintenance certificate program. Randy Fletcher, Parkland's dean of career and transfer programs, said the college created the program in response to learning about a critical need for skilled workers, specifically manufacturing technicians, at Kraft.
In addition to Kraft, the college has partnered with Plastipak and Flex-n-Gate's Guardian West plant to make the program available to current employees and new employees. The grant also funded new courses, equipment and established a high school dual-credit program "to create that pipeline of awareness," Fletcher said.
During his meeting, Durbin praised the community college system in Illinois and said he always encourages students, "if you have any doubt about higher education, start at the community college."
"It's affordable. You won't be swamped in debt and you can find out a little bit more about college and yourself," he said.