When it comes to paying for college, Shondell Coleman has to do it all by himself.
The junior leadership and management major is a first-generation college student who works a job and gets financial aid and scholarships to help pay for school. He was one of many students who talked with Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon during her visit to NIU on Friday. According to Simon’s website, she is a member of Illinois’ Complete College America team. The team is working to increase the amount of working-age adults with college degrees or certificates to 60 percent by 2025.
Simon came to NIU to talk with students, staff and faculty to promote college affordability at universities. She met with several students at the Latino Resource Center and listened to how they managed the costs of attending NIU while also working a job on the side. When she asked the students if they had ever started their semester without all their books purchased, many of them raised their hands.
Some students alleviate college expenses through scholarships. Junior accountancy major Daihee Cho said a lot of students who have jobs have to work instead of getting involved at school. He said most scholarships require students to be a strong leader in the community.
“Oftentimes they do not receive a scholarship and to afford school they have to work again, and they do not have time again,” Cho said.
Simon introduced the students to the idea of College Choice Reports. She said the reports would give students a quick way to find information about colleges they are interested in attending online. The reports would contain information on the net costs of attending college, the average debt and the completion rates.
“I like to compare it to labels on a can of soda,” Simon said.
Jesse Ruter, senior political science major, said the reports would need to include information like living costs. He said he watched his friends go to school in Chicago but stopped because they couldn’t afford it.
After meeting with the students, Simon said she heard similar stories from the students at other universities she’s visited. She found their stories inspiring and found they reinforced the value of higher education.
Cho said it was good for Simon to visit the university and talk to students. Her visit would also allow the university administration to know what students are going through, he said.
Kelly Wesener Michael, acting vice president of Student Affairs and Enrollment Management, said she appreciated Simon listening to the perspectives and ideas of the university staff and faculty. She said Simon has heard from students and she is getting a more realistic picture of the struggles students are going through.
“I appreciate her commitment to access issues in higher education,” Wesener Michael said.