Rev. Jesse L. Jackson Sr., founder and president of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, will meet this week with other civil rights leaders to make sure the rising cost of higher education does not get beyond the reach of students who need college the most.
“Students played a large role in creating the change we are experiencing here in America," Rev. Jackson said at the 19th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship Breakfast. "They must now benefit from the economic stimulus."
On Wednesday, Rev. Jackson will head to Washington, D.C. to meet with other social justice leaders, including Rev Al Sharpton, president of the National Action Network, to discuss the Rainbow PUSH Coalition’s new Education Stimulus Plan. The plan, aimed at helping college students and their families during the country’s current economic crisis, calls on Congress to:
Reduce the interest rate on federally subsidized student loans to 1 percent.
Extend the grace period before loan repayment begins from 6 months to 18 months for students who graduate.
End the penalties assessed to schools for student loan defaults.
Increase Pell Grants to $10,000 rather than the proposed $5,300 in the stimulus package currently under consideration by Congress.
During the breakfast, Rev. Jackson continued to weigh in on the importance of a bottom up economic stimulus agenda and others emphasized the importance of affordable education.
“I don’t know a single student who is not affected by the current economic climate,” said Dr. Julianne Malveaux, a keynote speaker and recipient of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. / Rabbi Joshua Heschel Social Justice Award. “People are able to get zero percent loans for cars. If we are able to provide zero percent for consumerism, why not 1 percent for our students?”
Today, the average college student graduates with more than $20,000 in student loan debt and $3,000 of credit card debt. According to a report issued by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, the cost of attending college has risen at nearly three times the rate of the cost of living. After being adjusted for inflation, college tuition and fees rose 439 percent from 1982 to 2007, far outpacing increases for medical care, housing and food. During this same period, median family income rose 147 percent.
“It is easier to go to jail than to college,” Rev. Jackson said, “We have to turn that around. There are too many able minded and able bodied young people who cannot afford college because of the astronomical cost.”
School spending accounts for about one-sixth of the $825 billion economic recovery package President Barack Obama is currently attempting to get through Congress.
Illinois Senator Dick Durban, who attend the event, stated, “It’s a lot easier to go back to Washington these days. Our America has changed.” He went on to say, “Barack’s story is one of education. Scholarships are critically important. I wouldn’t be standing here today without student loans. We have to make a way for your children.”
Chicago Public School Board President, Rufus Williams, discussed the effect the election of President Barak Obama is having on young minorities. “I am hearing ‘I want to go to Harvard.’ Children are looking to the top. We have to make sure this effect continues and is broadened.”
City and state school officials have made limited progress in combating the state’s dropout rate and increasing the number of students graduating. State Superintendent Christopher Koch stated, “We are happy to see an improvement but we have to do a lot better.”
Over the past seven years, PUSH for Excellence has raised more than $2.3 million to provide scholarships to 976 students.
Since 1975, PUSH-Excel has encouraged students and their parents to strive for academic excellence, and communities to make education and the development of America's youth a shared function. PUSH-Excel expands educational opportunities to youth each year by providing academic scholarships, testing and college preparation, oratorical competitions, juvenile mentoring, and early intervention programs.
“The world is made up of the movers and shakers or the moved and the shaken,” said Lieutenant Gov. Pat Quinn. “The difference between the two groups is education.”
The Rainbow PUSH Coalition is a progressive organization devoted to protecting, defending and expanding civil rights to improve economic and educational opportunity. The organization is headquartered at 930 E. 50th St. in Chicago. To learn more, please visit www.rainbowpush.org or call (773) 373-3366. To arrange an interview with Rev. Jackson, please call the numbers listed above. -30-