Afternoon Edition: Families face student loan pressure

Plus: CTA riders vent, a potential Columbia College strike and more.

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Freddie Ramos holds framed photos of his kids.

Lisa Philip/WBEZ

Good afternoon, Chicago. ✶

For a lot of Americans, student loan payments have resumed, or are set to, putting more financial pressure on folks already navigating tight budgets.

Below, we’ve got our story on families who borrowed to pay for their kids’ college educations — something many can relate to. 👇

Plus, we’ve got the community news you need to know this afternoon.

⏱️: A 7-minute read

— Matt Moore, newsletter reporter (@MattKenMoore)


Parents who borrowed to pay for kids’ college face a restart of loan payments

Reporting by Lisa Philip | WBEZ

Families to resume loan payments: More than 3.7 million American families owe about $104 billion in PLUS loans — a form of federal student debt that parents can tap on behalf of children in undergraduate programs, according to the nonprofit Century Foundation. These borrowers, like millions of others across the country, didn’t have to pay on their debt for the last three years because of the COVID-19 pandemic-era pause on payments. But that ends this month.

Leaning on PLUS loans: More Black and Latino parents with fewer resources are leaning on PLUS loans to send kids to college, according to the Century Foundation. That’s in part because Pell grants for students from low-income families aren’t keeping up with rising costs. And families of color are less likely than white families to have the family wealth needed to afford the increased cost of higher education.

One family’s experience: When Freddie Ramos’ kids were still in elementary school, he took them to lunch at colleges across Illinois. He wanted Freddie Jr. and Gabriel to understand the importance of higher education and help them feel they belonged on campus. So when it was time for them to go to college, the Chicago resident felt an obligation to help pay for their degrees. Ramos and his wife took out more than $20,000 in PLUS loans to help finance the last year of college or their son in 2018— and they still have $12,500 left to pay.




Chicago bus and rail commuters Ana Amaya (from left), Marjorie Kersten and Alton Lynum are among those who responded to a WBEZ survey this fall about CTA service. WBEZ surveyed commuters by email in 2022 and again in 2023 about reliability and safety.

Sam Varley-Stephens for WBEZ

  • Is CTA getting better? One year after CTA made a pledge to its riders to fix delays and curb the mayhem that stemmed from the COVID-19 pandemic, the transit system says its improvement plan is working. But when WBEZ asked riders in recent weeks if they’ve felt improvements on the ground, a surprising number said no.
  • Man indicted in murder of suburban woman in Germany: An American man has been charged with murder and other offenses in the June attacks on a Naperville woman and her friend near Neuschwanstein castle in Germany, the Associated Press reports.
  • Architect Daniel P. Coffey remembered: Coffey, a South Side bricklayer’s son who oversaw the restoration of the Chicago Theatre and other venues that formed the core of the downtown theater district, has died. He was 69.
  • Columbia College part-time faculty sets strike deadline: Adjunct faculty members at Columbia College say they will strike Monday if an agreement is not reached with school leaders before then. Administrators proposed cutting more than 300 courses at the small liberal arts and arts-focused South Loop school.
  • ‘The Who’s Tommy’ on Broadway: The Goodman Theatre’s critically acclaimed production of “The Who’s Tommy” is heading to Broadway, it was announced Thursday. The show is set to open in March 2024 at New York’s Nederlander Theatre.



A mural representing the United States and Mexico covers the side of Martin Castillo’s home near Midway Airport.

Robert Herguth/Sun-Times

Reporting by Katie Anthony

A massive piece of art has been on the home at 3932 W. 59th St. for about 13 years, after the idea came to owner Martin Castillo in the middle of the night.

The mural has two sides — one representing life in the United States, the other representing life in Mexico, where Castillo is from.

“In Mexico, people used to take a long time for lunch; they take a nap, a siesta,” Castillo, 53, says. “And, over here in the U.S., there’s no time. Everything is hurried.”

That difference in lifestyle comes out in the details of the painting, which Castillo commissioned an artist to paint.

In the top left of the piece, gears turn, representing the “engine” of the United States. The machine churns out a huge pile of cash. From the pile of cash, the mountains of Mexico come into view. Two women create homemade tortillas while a rancher observes his crops. Lush greenery and brown soil make up the scene, set under a bright blue sky with the Virgin Mary watching from above.

Castillo came to the United States in 1988 and started working as a tortilla maker for $3.50 an hour. From there, he says he began driving a big rig between New York and Chicago. Now, he runs his own business selling chicharrón products.

Liliana Cabrera, Castillo’s niece, says the mural represents her uncle’s journey from Mexico to the United States and reminds her that happiness can be found in both places.




The public thought this young male flamingo looked like a Fabio.

Jim Schulz/CZS-Brookfield Zoo

Two flamingo chicks win names in Brookfield Zoo contest

Reporting by Emmanuel Camarillo

Say hello to Fabio and Fiona.

Those are the names that came out on top for the male and female flamingo chicks at Brookfield Zoo after nearly 5,000 votes were cast by the public, the zoo announced this week.

The other choices for the female chick were Peggy, Sunrise or Daisy. The other choices for the male chick were Otis, Ringo or Dash.

The two birds were among nine young American flamingos, ranging from 5 months to 2 years old, recently welcomed to the zoo for the first time since 1997. The chicks are somewhat gray for now, as their colorful plumage is still developing.

Accompanied by zoo staff, the flamingos will be at the zoo’s Roosevelt Fountain every day at noon so visitors can view the birds up close.



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Editor: Satchel Price
Written by: Matt Moore and Katie Anthony
Copy editor: Angie Myers

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