ELMHURST – Illinois Treasurer Michael Frerichs and House Republican Leader Jim Durkin stopped by Elmhurst College on Oct. 13 to listen to students affected by the current freeze in state student tuition funding.
Students and administrators from Elmhurst College, Dominican University, Triton College and North Central College joined them to urge Gov. Bruce Rauner and the General Assembly to do something to release Monetary Assistance Program grant funding.
Because of the disagreement between Democrats and Republicans in the General Assembly over how to resolve the budget crisis, Illinois has been scraping by without a budget. The state is running on emergency money, and although most things are still running, student tuition grant funding has dried up.
More than 25 percent of Elmhurst College undergraduates are set to receive MAP funding, which provides grants to Illinois residents in financial need who attend approved Illinois colleges and universities.
Frerichs has spent the past months traveling around the state and drawing attention to the issue of MAP grant funding, and listening to some of the 130,000 students that receive them.
“A lot of people aren’t feeling the effects of [the budget impasse] because they have someone fighting for them,” Frerichs said. “There are members of unions who hire lawyers to argue their case in the courts. Association who have lobbyists who argue on their behalf.
“But for the 130,000 students throughout the state who receive MAP grants, and who rely on MAP grants to give them an opportunity to attend an institution of higher education, and to have an opportunity to be put on a path of success, they don’t have lawyers, they don’t have lobbyists and frequently, they don’t have time for their voice to be heard.”
In the case of Jacob Henry, an Elmhurst College student majoring in sociology and intercultural studies, the MAP grant represents 10 percent of his tuition. The rest of the money from Elmhurst College, federal loans and community scholarships.
Yet without that 10 percent that MAP awards him, he couldn’t finish college.
“I require need-based aid simply because of geography,” Henry said. “I come from a part of Illinois that I affectionately refer to as ‘The Corn.’ As you can imagine, in a dyeing farm town of 500 people, the cost of living is considerably below the national average. So it really isn’t a problem [in my hometown] that my parent’s combined absolute income from full-time professional work is less than some part-time jobs in the suburbs.”
“This income discrepancy only becomes an issue when someone wants to leave ‘The Corn.’ Even with need-based aid, too many people from my home are unable to break the reproducing cycle of rural poverty. If it wasn’t for the MAP, I might still be there too.”
Donna Carroll, president of Dominican University, focused on the demographics of the students affected at her institution.
According to Carroll, 47 percent of students are Hispanic, and the average household income is less than $50,000.
“I often feel that private higher education is seen as a destination for the white and wealthy, rather than viewed in its true nature, as often the best case scenario for the academically at high risk and the underserved,” Carroll said.
The state of Illinois gives half of Dominican University students MAP grants, which the university matches at three dollars for every dollar granted, according to Carroll
“It is my expectation and the expectation of my colleague presidents, that state meet its obligation to these students or jeopardize the future not only of each of those students, but of the state and of the faith future generations might have on the integrity of the government,” Carroll said.
“Its unfortunate, and I’m sorry we are in this position,” Leader Durkin said. “We are going to continue to negotiate and hopefully find resolution to the issue.”
Durkin said that he supports MAP grant funding and that he considers it part of the educational opportunities that the state must provide.
“We are going to retire some day, and we need to rely on [students] to run this state, this nation and also the economy,” Durkin said. “Its not about politics. I think every side has made their point for the past few months, and we need to come to some type of agreement and pass a budget that is fair, respectable and sensitive.”