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June 28, 2010

ISAC Salutes Late Senator Robert Byrd
Executive Director Andrew Davis issues statement on Byrd’s legacy

CHICAGO—The Illinois Student Assistance Commission (ISAC) issued a statement about the passing of Senator Robert C. Byrd (D-W. Va.) on June 28, 2010.  Byrd’s legacy includes the creation of the Robert C. Byrd Honors Scholars Program and the Traditional American History (TAH) grant program for K-12 school districts.

Byrd was the valedictorian of his high school class but was unable to afford college.  He was self-educated and well read, and soon after arriving in Washington, he enrolled in night law school classes, despite his lack of a bachelor’s degree. 

The only person ever to earn an undergraduate and law degree while serving in Congress,  Byrd was inspired to create a merit-based federal scholarship bearing his name after seeing intelligent, hard-working students from the West Virginia hills who could not afford college.  In 1969, he created a program to give every high school valedictorian in West Virginia a savings bond.  That idea grew into the Byrd Honors Scholarship program, which now makes awards to more than 25,000 students annually nationwide.

Andrew Davis, ISAC executive director, said:

“The United States has lost a great advocate for education.  Senator Byrd’s passion for higher education was likely fueled by his own experiences of being very capable of attending a university, but not having the ability to pay for his education.  This self-taught and well-read man went to law school while serving as a congressman despite not having a college education.

“Today, the Byrd Honors Scholarship program assists over 1,400 promising Illinois students with a $1,500-a-year scholarship  to help put college in reach.  We are proud to continue his legacy as the administrator of the Robert C. Byrd Honors Scholars Program in the State of Illinois.”

Created in 1985, the Robert C. Byrd Honors Scholars Program is a federally-funded, state-administered scholarship program designed to recognize high school seniors who have exceptional grades and show promise of continued academic excellence.  The 2009-10 Robert C. Byrd Honors Scholars include 1,403 students selected from across Illinois, including 299 new Byrd Scholars that are eligible to receive a $1,500 college scholarship for each of four years. 

Awardees are selected by ISAC based on academic data from the end of the junior year, plus ACT, SAT or Prairie State Achievement Exam scores.  To ensure geographic balance, winners are chosen from 15 Illinois districts and on an at-large basis. There is no application to complete for the Byrd Honors Scholarship Program.  Students are automatically considered when their high school guidance counselor submits information to ISAC for the selection process.

For new candidates from the state of Illinois, the student must at minimum rank in the top two percent of the high school class during junior year; score 31 or above on the ACT, 1360 or above on the SAT, or the equivalent on the Prairie State Achievement Exam; and have a cumulative GPA of 3.8 or higher on a 4.0 scale (or its equivalent).  A complete list of new Byrd Scholarship recipients by county and high school may be found at   www.collegezone.com/407_12978.htm.

The Illinois Student Assistance Commission provides students of all ages and backgrounds with the resources and support to obtain financial aid for higher education. A state agency, ISAC has paved the path to post-secondary education with innovative programs for over 50 years. The commission continued its mission to make college accessible and affordable for Illinois students by administering over 183,000 grants and scholarships totaling over $430 million in FY2009 alone. 

The Commission provides educational funding with student loans and via numerous programs such as the Monetary Award Program (MAP), the Illinois Veteran Grant and College Illinois!® 529 Prepaid Tuition Program. Students and families have free access to a wealth of financial aid and college planning information at ISAC’s family of Web sites available at www.KnowHow2GOIllinois.org.


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