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Bustos lends ear to officials

Sauk working to bring skilled workers back to the region

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(Philip Marruffo/pmarruffo@saukvalley.com)
U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-East Moline, meets with Sauk Valley Community College students outside the advanced labs Monday morning. The stop was part of a weeklong tour of community colleges in the 17th District she represents.

DIXON – Sauk Valley Community College is working hard to attract local students who otherwise would go away to college and not return to the area, officials told U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, who toured the college Monday morning.

The college struggles to attract skilled workers back to the area, Academic Vice President Alan Pfeifer said.

“One of the priorities of our area industries is to make that contact with students as soon as possible,” Pfeifer said. “The other thing is to try to make that linkage with our local companies. A lot of our students come here, they go away to University of Illinois engineering, and they never show back.”

That makes it tough for local industries to recruit engineers, for example, because those students don’t return, he said.

Making the connection with students early on, and keeping them in this area are two focuses of the college, Pfeifer said.

Bustos, an East Moline Democrat who has been serving the 17th Congressional District for a little more than 3 months, asked Sauk officials what she should know about the status of Pell grant funding.

The federal program provides need-based grants to low-income undergraduates.

Luis Moreno, dean of student services, said grant funding is not at the level it once was. He also told Bustos about financial aid abuse he has seen.

“In order to receive financial aid, you must be degree-seeking,” Moreno said. “You have students out here who are not going to get a degree, they’re just out here [because] for them it’s another source of income, to be quite honest.”

Students say their major is undeclared, then when told they then do not qualify for financial aid, they quickly declare a major, he said.

“We had a grandmother, a mother and a grandson that all came out here; they took out the max [in aid], everything that they could,” Moreno said. “Within a year, they all flunked out except for the grandmother. They still walked away with all the financial aid money, student loans.”

There is no way to track those students from school to school to see who is abusing the system, he said.

Sauk President George Mihel told Bustos there is enough money for most students who need Pell grants, but the rules and accessibility of funds is a problem.

Bustos also talked Monday about her first few months in Congress. She said she had reached out to every new member of Congress, both Republican and Democrat, focusing on building bipartisan relationships – something constituents say they want from their congressional representatives.

“We all came off of this campaign trail for the last year, year and a half and we heard from people very loudly and clearly that, ‘You need to figure out how you are going to come together,’” Bustos said.

The congresswoman, whose district includes all of Whiteside County, has offices in Rock Island, Rockford and Peoria, and plans to open a satellite office in the Sterling-Rock Falls area in the future, she said.

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