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ECC President: Avoid student loans, if possible, during state budget crisis

Dr. David Sam Head Shot

Dr. David Sam, JD, Ph.D., LLM, President, Elgin Community College

Did you know that student loan debt in the United States has soared to $1.2 trillion? Even though the state budget stalemate is impacting grant funding for students who need it, I implore students to inquire about other ways to pay for their education without taking out a sizeable student loan.

A startling statistic that I recently read on, states that 40 million Americans currently possess student loans. This is a problem that continues to plague students and institutions across the country.  And the lack of MAP funding this year makes student loans appear more appealing, but could ultimately lead to financial ruin.

I wonder how much student debt could be avoided if we were more proactive in educating our students, who will ultimately be responsible for paying back every penny that they owe.

At Elgin Community College, we have taken a deliberate approach to lowering student debt and we have the data to prove it.

It started in 2011 when we first implemented a mandatory loan counseling program, which requires every student to meet with a financial aid adviser before they take out a loan. During the one-on-one, 30-minute session, students create a budget to see how much money they need as opposed to what they think they need. 

And we have seen tremendous results.

In the 2010-2011 school year, before we mandated loan counseling, ECC students borrowed $6.3 million. In the 2014-2015 school year they borrowed $3.6 million, significantly less than previous years.

This tells me that educating our students on how to pay for college, especially now during the state budget crisis, can prevent them from making bad decisions that could result in a financial crisis of their own.

In addition to individualized attention to help our students avoid debt, we offer other financial literacy programs and interactive games that test their financial knowledge and teach them how to win at life.

These exceptional financial literacy efforts have resulted in national recognition for the college. In fact, we are one of the few community colleges highlighted (on Page 64) of President Obama's Financial Literacy Council's Final Report as an additional source for educators. Our initiatives were also listed on Page 23 of a report by the Financial Literacy and Education Commission, Department of the Treasury as “some of the most prominent financial education programs” in the nation.

One of our main goals at the college is to help ensure that finances are not a barrier to student success. Another way to avoid student loans is to apply for scholarships or for a student Work- Study Program.

By the way, did you know that the ECC Foundation offers more than 125 student scholarships each year? If you are a current student, go ahead and apply! Contact the Financial Aid office at 847-214-7360 or visit to learn how we can assist you in your educational goals and help you avoid unnecessary debt.

And for those of you who are thinking of enrolling and are wondering if the concept of graduating from ECC with minimal-to-no student debt is still possible, I can assure you that it is!

-David Sam, JD, Ph.D., LLM, President, Elgin Community College 


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