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Labor secretary forecasts 'bright future' for UIC students

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Hilda Solis, U.S. secretary of labor

Hilda Solis, U.S. secretary of labor, speaks with students Tuesday. “Financial aid — if I didn’t have it, I know I wouldn’t be standing before you,” she said.

Photo: Joshua Clark

U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis shared her own story Tuesday with UIC students, listened to theirs, then offered a message of optimism and hope.

“I see a very bright future for you,” she told about 150 students and recent grads at Student Center East.

“Don’t give up. There are resources for you.”

President Barack Obama is working to expand the amount available for Pell grants and other financial aid and make sure student loans are available at low interest rates, she said.

And when it comes time to repay those loans, loan forgiveness is possible for those who go into careers like teaching or medicine and are willing to work in a low-income area, Solis added.

Referring to the proposed DREAM Act, which offers a path to citizenship for students brought to this country as children, Solis said, “My hope is we keep good people here.”

She added, “Let’s staple that Green Card next to the graduate degree.”

Turning to the economy, Solis said, “You may be nervous because this is a difficult time for us. We just came out of the worst recession since the Great Depression.”

In this “compressed economy,” she said, three to six people apply for every job.

“You have to be on your game. You have to be better than everybody else,” she advised.

Although young people have one of the highest rates of unemployment, “it’s going to level off,” said Solis, who visited UIC two years ago to launch a fair wage campaign by the Department of Labor.

“I talk to employers who want highly trained and skilled individuals [who also must] know how to interact with people.”

Solis told the students she almost didn’t make it to college. A high school counselor convinced her she was college material and told her about financial aid.

“My parents didn’t even have high school educations. Their goal was to get their kids through high school,” she said.

In her senior year as a political science major at California State Polytechnic Institute, Solis ran out of financial aid and turned to student loans. After graduation, an instructor encouraged her to go for a master’s degree. That meant plunging further into debt, but Solis said she is glad she did.

“Financial aid — if I didn’t have it, I know I wouldn’t be standing before you,” she said.

Solis asked students to talk about their plans and problems.

Amalia Jones, who is working on a master’s degree in social work, said, “By the time I’m finished I will have a mound of debt that will be overwhelming.”

Jones expressed concerned about her potential income.

“I know people who are high school grads who make twice as much as me,” she said.

Jesse Banwart, a graphic design major, said he works two jobs, 25 hours a week, to cover his cost of living. His parents take care of tuition.

“I’ll be paying them back when I am an established human,” he said.


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