Letter to the Editor from Carolyn Lach

As the Director of Financial Aid I deal with a lot of numbers, but as a higher education administrator what I really care about are students. The following will contain a lot of numbers, but please don’t let that disinterest you. This issue is going to impact you or someone you know, so please take the time to read this.

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Since 1967, the Monetary Award Program (MAP) has provided funding in the form of a grant for Illinois students to attend college in Illinois.  MAP grant eligibility is determined by the Illinois Student Assistance Commission (ISAC) using information reported on the FAFSA.  Award amounts and availability are determined by state legislature and financial appropriation.

According to their website, ISAC awarded approximately $372 million in MAP grants in Fiscal Year 2014, helping over 136,000 students to continue their education. The MAP grant is one of the best investments our state can make in its citizens, the state’s economy, and in the future of the state.

Looking at the current academic term, the original Fiscal Year 2015 budget requested level funding for MAP, even though the final 2015 budget appropriation was reduced by $8.4 million mid-year as a result of the state’s 2.25% across-the-board budget cut.  As a result, last year's reduced appropriation served approximately 128,000 students, but 160,000 eligible applicants were not offered MAP due to insufficient funding.

While reduced funding levels are certainly a matter of concern, a greater issue is now at hand. The state of Illinois is currently without a budget.  One of the many ramifications of being without a budget for 8-plus months is that the state has not paid schools for MAP. Many public colleges and universities are facing huge economic strains, including not being able to pay faculty, staff, and creditors. Some are saying they will need to close their doors before the end of the spring term.

To date, North Park University has not received any MAP funds for 2015-16.

North Park, like many colleges and universities across Illinois, credited student accounts for fall MAP awards.  However, many of the schools (including North Park) who credited MAP for first-term, in the expectation that a budget would have been passed, (and that MAP would be funded), were not able to do so for the spring term.

Where does that leave us? As of February 14th, there hasn't been a fully enacted piece of legislation providing MAP funding for the 2015-2016 academic year. Legislators have filed and considered several bills that would include MAP funding, but none of these has yet become law.

Majorities in both the House and Senate approved Senate Bill 2043. The bill includes $397 million for MAP (an increase over the previous year) and funding similar to last year’s levels for community colleges, including adult education and career and technical education programs. The governor has said that he would veto this bill, calling for a more comprehensive budget solution including reforms not directly related to higher education.

In the meantime, alternative and complementary proposals have been filed on both sides of the General Assembly, however they are still in the early stages and not much action has been taken on them. Many schools, student groups, and non-profits are encouraging lawmakers and the governor to fund higher education quickly. Many institutions are promoting efforts to urge the Governor to sign SB 2043.  On February 16th, college students rallied at the Capitol building where they lobbied legislators and Governor Bruce Rauner for MAP grant legislation. If you are interested please contact either the governor's office or Illinois state legislature.

My point is this: the Press exists to be the voice of the people. It always has, and with any luck, it always will. It should be the responsibility of the Spectrum to focus on any issue that will have a direct impact on the students. Whether it be student government, faculty decisions, or even something as seemingly boring as a financial aid issue. The student voice needs to be heard, and as the Press you are the best format to make these issues heard by both students and staff. If you are a student who understands the importance of an issue like this, contact the Press. Contact the Spectrum and share the importance with other students.

 

Thank you,

Carolyn Lach

Director of Financial Aid