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Inside the Illinois House Hearing on the Financial Aid Scandal

Lawmakers described the practice as disturbing, disheartening and shocking.

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I was waiting in line for coffee on Thursday morning when I noticed a woman next to me holding an official-looking piece of paper. I couldn’t help but glance at the words on the top (pretty much a reflex if you’re a reporter) and noticed it said something about a meeting at the Bilandic Building.

I was on my way there to meet my colleague Jodi S. Cohen for a legislative hearing called in response to our reporting last week on a college financial aid scandal, the one where parents were giving up guardianship of their children to qualify for need-based financial aid they wouldn’t otherwise receive.

At the hearing, lawmakers grilled university and state financial aid officials. They used many different terms to describe the practice: Disturbing, disheartening, shocking, injustice, questionable.

Here’s the story on yesterday’s hearing, which included a discussion of changing the state’s guardianship law and denying admission to students whose families exploit legal loopholes for financial gain.

But you’ll want to read this, the story that started it all, if you haven’t already. And here’s the follow-up story reporting that the U.S. Department of Education said it wants to close financial aid loopholes. And here’s where we wrote about lawmakers calling the tactic a “manipulative practice” and announcing Thursday’s hearing.

As for my coffee buddy, it turned out that she didn’t attend the hearing. That’s because she was going to the Illinois Gaming Board meeting, which was being covered by another one of my colleagues. (We had a disproportionate number of ProPublica Illinois reporters at the Bilandic Building on Thursday!) Jason Grotto has been reporting on video gambling this year, including this week’s great story about dark money, city politics and efforts to build a casino in Waukegan.

So, yeah, we’ve been busy. But that doesn’t mean we don’t know how to have fun. Care to join us? Cards Against Humanity will feature ProPublica Illinois as part of its Late Night Writer’s Room improv event at the Museum of Contemporary Art on Saturday, Aug. 17, at 7:30 p.m. Details and ticket information are here.

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