‘Fireside Chat’ to kick off Chasing the American Dream Series on campus

Logan Raschke, Managing Editor

A free Fireside Chat panel presentation, formatted after Ted Talks, will discuss issues like finances, student debt, credit cards/credit scores and outmigration on Feb. 10.

Beth Gillespie, director of the Office of Civic Engagement and Volunteerism, said the topic of student debt is significant because students face totally different financial hardships than they did 20 to 50 years ago.

“More and more students are taking on huge loans to pay for college, and the cost of college obviously keeps going up as well,” she said. “So what does that mean when you’re 22 years old and you have $60,000 of college loan debt to your name?”

Gillespie said many students today are first-generation college students, which means they are the first in their families to pursue a higher education beyond high school or equivalency.

Many times these first-generation college students have other financial struggles, like supporting their own families and working one or more jobs while attending school, she said.

Alex Martens, senior graduate assistant for the office, said some college students do not have broad understandings of credit cards and credit scores, which are both essential parts of growing up.

He said without good credit scores, or no credit scores at all, it can be difficult for students to get low-interest loans or to get approved for loans in the first place.

Additionally, sometimes people go into college with misinformation about credit cards, Martens said.

“There’s also a lot of students too (who) have been told so much throughout their high school, and their parents never get a credit card, ‘Credit cards are bad; they’re evil,’ when the reality (is) they aren’t necessarily evil because that’s how you build up a credit score,” Martens said.

To help him build his own credit score, Martens said he got a credit card after he turned 18. He would buy gas with it and pay off his entire balances soon after.

When it comes to outmigration, Gillespie said Illinois has one of the highest rates of out-of-state-bound people, aged 18 to 22 years old, in the U.S.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the Illinois population has seen a consistently declining population for five straight years.

In 2014, more than 10,000 residents left the state. In 2018, more than 45,000 residents left; the total tally in that five-year span is more than 157,000 people gone.

Gillespie said she believes the decline can be traced back to the budget impasse, which had a negative effect on colleges across the state.

“I think the budget impasse did a lot of damage,” Gillespie said. “When we were in the throes of it, we heard a lot of people saying things who were looking at going to college, so high school students, saying, ‘Why would I go to a place that may not be open in two years?’ And the surrounding states, understandably, came in and were recruiting really, really heavily, and they were offering in-state tuition for Illinois residents … we can’t be mad at them for that. They were capitalizing on an opportunity, but that definitely hurt us.”

Gillespie said the purpose of the Fireside Chat aims to explain these issues affecting Eastern students and answer any questions they might have. Because these are broad issues that affect everyone in the state, Gillespie said she would encourage everyone to attend.

The first 50 students who register will get free chicken fingers and French fries lunches. Students can register by accessing Eastern’s website, searching for the Office of Civic Engagement and Volunteerism and clicking on the “Chasing the American Dream Series” tab.

The Fireside Chat will be on Feb. 10 in the University Ballroom of the Martin Luther King Jr. University Union. Doors open at 11:45 a.m., and speakers will begin at noon.

The Fireside Chats are part of the Office of Civic Engagement and Volunteerism’s Chasing the American Dream series, which hosts a number of events for students to learn more about important political, social and civic issues in safe learning environments. 

Logan Raschke can be reached at 581-2812 or at [email protected]