Aldermen target student loan debt in appeal to millennials

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Aldermen Marge Laurino (39th) and Edward Burke (14th) called for City Council hearings on ways to pressure local companies to help ease employees’ student loan debt burden. | Sun-Times file photo

Bernie Sanders’ message about free college tuition and the crushing burden of student loan debt is resonating — not just with millennials but with Chicago aldermen.

On the day after an Illinois primary that saw Sanders nearly beat Hillary Clinton in her home state, Aldermen Edward Burke (14th) and Marge Laurino (39th) called for City Council hearings on student loan debt they hope to use to pressure local companies to ease the burden.

“These hearings would query local companies and school officials on what plans they have to attract young workers by offering student loan repayment benefits,” Laurino said in a news release.

Burke noted that the nationwide level of student loan debt has tripled since 2005 to a back-breaking $1.2 trillion, according to statistics compiled by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

“Crippling student loan debt is an issue that affects — not only countless students in Chicago, but also parents who co-sign that debt. It is our hope that these hearings will prompt both universities and private employers to step up to the plate to try to shoulder some of that burden,” Burke was quoted as saying.

The apparent political appeal to millennial voters comes at a time when the marathon state budget stalemate has threatened to close Chicago State University and denied thousands of students across the state their scholarship money under the so-called MAP grant program.

DePaul has announced plans to honor every MAP award to more than 4,500 of its neediest students while making the same commitment to incoming students. Northwestern University is also confronting the issue to ease the financial burden on students. Starting next fall, NU will offer a mix of grants, work-study and summer jobs programs to help students reduce the cost of tuition, books, room and board that can top $60,000 a year.

The resolution introduced Wednesday at the City Council meeting notes that Illinois ranks 16th in the nation with an average student loan debt of $28,984.

Over the past decade, the level of student loan debt has more than doubled at five public universities that rely heavily on state funding: Eastern, Northern, Southern, Western and Illinois State, the aldermen claim, citing unspecified research.

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