University presidents are pushing Gov. Pat Quinn to come up with $200 million — and fast — to restore funding for state financial aid grants.
About 140,000 college students across the state are getting the Monetary Award Program grants this fall, but big shortfalls in the state’s budget mean that as of right now, none of those students will be getting the grants in January.
The need-based grants usually range from $2,000 to $4,000 per year and are a key part of financial aid packages for low-income students. Over the summer, students said that without the grants they’d have to take on full-time jobs, transfer to cheaper schools or even drop out entirely.
“The students who come from socio-economic circumstances that make them eligible for MAP are the kinds of students that just historically, if they stop attending, they almost uniformly never start up again,” says Roosevelt University President Chuck Middleton. “So keeping them in school continuously is really critical.”
Middleton was one of several university presidents who took the issue to Quinn’s office last week. The meeting went well, he says, but Quinn made no promises. Since many universities start the registration process for their winter or spring terms in November, that leaves only about two months to come up with a solution.
“I was very pleased that the governor clearly understands the significance and the urgency of the situation, and the magnitude of the numbers of students whose academic futures are on the line,” Middleton says. About a fifth of Roosevelt's 7,500 students get the grants, he says.
There were no obvious ideas to fix a program that had its original annual budget of more than $400 million eviscerated to $220 million, says David Tretter, the president of the Federation of Independent Illinois Colleges.
“I can’t say that any new ground was tilled as far as potential revenues that could be used to come up with that,” Tretter says.
Most likely, funds for the program will have to come from new revenues, whether taxes, fees or some other option, says Andy Davis, the executive director of the Illinois Student Assistance Commission
“The governor has made it known to myself and the commissioners of the Illinois Student Assistance Commission that this is the very highest priority,” Davis says.
The agency is launching a new Web site today to drum up support for the issue and it will hold a series of town hall meetings across the state in the next few weeks.
Earlier this summer, Quinn expressed his support for the grant program and said he’d work to restore funding. And the grant program is popular with both Democrats and Republicans in Springfield.
We made contact with Quinn’s press office, but a spokeswoman referred us to a Sun-Times article for his remarks. Thanks, guys.