JOLIET – Nicole Berard told a committee of Illinois lawmakers Thursday her enrollment at University of St. Francis this spring will be in jeopardy if they don't approve a state budget that funds tuition assistance for low-income college students.
Berard, who is studying special education at USF, is among the 130,000 low-income students statewide who receive funding from Illinois’ Monetary Award Program to help pay for education. The funding has become entangled in Springfield's budget impasse, which is in its third month.
Thursday's Illinois Senate Higher Education Committee hearing in Joliet was one of three scheduled across the state designed so students could tell lawmakers about the impasse's effect on their educations.
“The MAP grant, to me, plays a key role. If I lost that, it would be really rough. I don't think I could continue my education,” Berard told committee members. “I'm working my two jobs right now trying to pay for everything, to pay bills, to provide for my younger sister. And it's a lot for me.”
College leaders from JJC, University of St. Francis and Lewis University in Romeoville said Thursday the institutions have so far “floated the money” to students eligible for MAP funding for the fall semester.
But without state appropriations, that won't be feasible for much longer, and could hurt spring enrollment, said Raymond Kennelly, senior vice president for strategic enrollment management, marketing and planning at Lewis University.
“One of the challenges that we will eventually confront is, if the dollars do not arrive, we have a true cash flow challenge,” Kennelly said.
He said institutions would then have two choices: go to families and ask that they pay – in some instances, thousands more in tuition – or attempt to fill the financial gap with “dramatic” mid-year budget adjustments achieved through staffing and service cuts.
The cost to Lewis is about $6 million over two semesters, he said.
USF President Arvid Johnson said university officials have floated about $1.2 million to students for the fall semester. If spring arrives without appropriations, that will jump to about $2.5 million, he said.
Students have become Springfield's “pawns in a game over which they have no control,” Johnson said.
Shane Kenealy, 23, of Plainfield, told committee members he be would devastated if his MAP funding was taken away.
A second-year college student at JJC, Kenealy said he is visually impaired. The $600 he receives each semester helps pay for textbooks in alternative formats and supplements the cost of his many doctor appointments.
"I just don't have the money to pay for my classes," he said.
JJC President Debra Daniels said nearly 950 students at JJC eligible for MAP funding are attending the school this fall, she said.
"The state funding problem should not be on the shoulders of students who are striving to receive an education," she said. "The state is putting at risk our most at-risk population."
Daniels said the state budget impasse also has tied up funding for the college's adult education and literacy class options. If nothing is done, those classes will be reduced, leading to staff layoffs.
• This story has been corrected to reflect Nicole Berard is a University of St. Francis student.