With the first semester well underway at most colleges and universities across the state, there's a renewed interest in the Monetary Award Program
(MAP), one of the most comprehensive need-based student aid programs in
the country. Back in June, while facing a record ...
With the first semester well underway at most colleges and universities across the state, there's a renewed interest in the Monetary Award Program (MAP), one of the most comprehensive need-based student aid programs in the country. Back in June, while facing a record number of applications and an uncertain budget, the Illinois Student Assistance Commission (ISAC) voted to eliminate the entire grant program for the spring 2010 term, cutting off assistance to about 137,000 students. ISAC's fears were warranted; soon after their decision, the General Assembly passed its stop-gap budget, cutting $220 million from the program's $440 million budget.
For the past month, Gov. Pat Quinn has been sounding the horn about the funding shortfall, telling reporters that members of the General Assembly "have to work together on both sides of the aisle on making sure we have adequate money for our scholarships for our students." Both he and House Speaker Michael Madigan favor a $1-a-pack tax hike on cigarettes to cover the cost. ** Quinn will take that message to the University of Illinois at Chicago next week, where he held a town hall with students on the topic. ** Other lawmakers are also voicing their support for restarting the MAP grants funding. State Rep. Mike Boland (D-Moline) told the Sun-Times that, during college visits this summer, the MAP program was students' primary concern. The Peoria Journal-Star tracked down State Sens. Dale Risinger (R-Peoria) and Kirk Dillard (R-Hinsdale) who echoed Quinn's call for a quick solution. "The MAP grant, I think, is probably the single most important program we have out there," added Dillard. "We have got to find a way to fund it."
Encouragingly, students across the state are organizing to fight for the college aid. On October 15, there will be a rally at the state capitol in Springfield. More information can be found on Facebook and on ISAC's new website devoted to the issue.
It's unquestionably true that the funding should be restored. These grants -- which range from $2,500 to $5,000 per semester -- allow thousands of college-age Illinoisans to stay enrolled in school. Even when the program is solvent, the state struggles to extend higher education that's affordable to students from low- and moderate-income households. The more lawmakers who see this shortage as a problem, the better.
But where was this urgency three months ago? Boland, Risinger, and Dillard all had the opportunity to pass a budget that increased revenue to pay for the the MAP program (among other things). Instead, the pair of Senators voted against (PDF) Sen. James Meeks' HB 174 when it passed through their chamber in May. Meanwhile, Boland joined fellow Republicans in rejecting (PDF) the temporary tax increase proposal taken up in the House. Let's also not forget the drastic cuts lawmakers have made to the state's higher education budget (18 percent for public universities and 13 percent for community colleges). Those reductions are largely the result of the General Assembly's refusal to generate sustainable revenue.
** UPDATE (4:50 PM): Originally, we wrote that Quinn's town hall took place yesterday. I read a press release incorrectly. The post has been changes to reflect that.
Image used under a Creative Commons license by Flickr user libdespot.