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Durbin looks to ECC as model for student loan counseling bill

ELGIN – U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin met Friday with officials from Elgin Community College for a closer look at the college’s successful loan counseling program.

Durbin introduced a bill in March called “Know Before You Owe,” which requires schools to counsel students before they accept expensive or unnecessary student loans.

ECC has had a model since fall 2011 of mandatory, one-on-one loan counseling sessions between students and financial aid administrators. Durbin was at Elgin to learn more about how the program has helped students avoid burdensome debt.   

“Elgin Community College is ahead of the curve,” Durbin said. “They are really focused on helping the students. Too many other schools – particularly for-profit schools – are focused on the bottom line. … If you stop and think about each student and value them individually as ECC does, you get a much different result.”

Durbin said student loan debt is out of control, and that the thinks Washington can learn something from ECC. “I read about this and said, ‘I’ve got to come out here,’ not only to hear about how this is working firsthand, but also because I can go back to Washington and tell your story,” he said.

The one-on-one counseling has been particularly effective, said Kim Wagner, managing director of student financial services at ECC. “What that gives to the student is that personal feel. They feel like their questions are being answered. They feel that their situation is being heard.”

Wagner said that by meeting students in person, financial aid administrators can evaluate their true financial needs, looking at factors such as part-time jobs and other revenue sources.

Students at ECC last year borrowed 13 percent less than in 2011.

Bryan Lantz has one semester remaining at ECC and said he will graduate debt-free.

“When you’re [applying for financial aid] on the computer, you’re wondering, ‘Is this right, is this right? Could I be wrong? I don’t want to mess up,’ “ Lantz said. “When you’re face-to-face with someone, you get direct answers. You know that you’re filling it out right.”

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