As the state faces a severe budget shortfall, Illinois college students face the possibility of less funding to pay for school. Gov. Bruce Rauner’s proposed budget for the 2016 fiscal year calls for no increases to the state’s Monetary Award Program (MAP), with funding held at $373 million starting July 1 — the beginning of the state’s next fiscal year.

Rauner and other Republican lawmakers also propose more strings attached for students who receive state funding. For instance, legislation sponsored by Republican state Senator Chapin Rose (51st) would require college graduates who leave the state within five years of matriculating to repay any college aid they received, turning what has traditionally been considered a grant into a loan. In addition, students would also be required to complete their degrees within four years; and those who flunk out of school would not be eligible to receive state aid the following year. 

Michael Tinson, a senior communications major who attends Dominican University in River Forest, said the extra $4,000 to $5,000 in MAP grant funding mean that he and many of his peers don’t have to go into deeper debt to stay in school.

“If we didn’t have that extra money coming in, that would require us to take out more loans and some of us don’t want to take out more money,” he said. “If the government gives us more money to go to school, we won’t be spending that much money out of pocket or taking out more loans.” 

Tinson was among a large contingent of students who traveled to Springfield last month to lobby state legislators to keep MAP funding intact as part of Student Lobby Day, an annual event at the capitol for college students across the state. He called the MAP program a ‘win-win’ for Illinois.

“If [the state] puts more money and effort into us going to school, then we return the favor and work with a future job that can help the economy,” said Tinson, who is among the first generation of his family to attend college. 

“If the governor’s focus is making sure Illinois is in the right financial shape, then he should know that the best way to secure a healthy economy in Illinois in the future is through an educated citizenry,” said Berto Aguayo, Dominican’s student body president. 

Aguayo, a junior political science and economics major, also went to Springfield. He was critical of how government has approached the festering issue of student debt. 

“I think the state and federal governments are handling the student debt crisis horribly,” he said. “Everyone realizes that student debt and the cost of higher education is ridiculous, but I feel like [the government] is not making the issue a priority. We have seen great positive first steps from Sen. Elizabeth Warren [D-Massachusetts] and President Obama, but those have been suffocated by lawmakers who would rather issue corporate tax cuts than secure the future of our country and state.” 

However, some state lawmakers insist that Illinois’ current funding levels demand that they reform how money for college education is disbursed.

“We can ill afford to make an investment in the future of a student of the magnitude that the MAP program provides and then have that student move out of state and start paying taxes somewhere else as their working career begins,” state Sen. Rose told the Herald-Review. 

“We simply must do more with less,” he said. “Restoring fiscal sanity to Illinois is job one, and reforming our state’s MAP grant program, which costs the state taxpayer’s $373 million per year, is critical to that mission.”

CONTACT: michael@oakpark.com 

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