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Local News

Will County colleges uncertain about state student aid funding

State, higher education officials seeking solutions for MAP grants

JOLIET – For Rosalva Patino’s family, higher education is expensive for students and parents alike.

That’s why Patino, along with her husband, was registering her son last week for financial aid at a Free Application for Federal Student Aid workshop held at Joliet Junior College. 

Patino said her daughter, who attends Lewis University, benefits from student aid through the state’s Monetary Award Program grants. 

She said she didn’t think Gov. Bruce Rauner’s veto in February of legislation that would have funded MAP grants was a wise decision.

“I think these kids need help,” Patino said. “It’s going to hurt the state in many ways if [students] can’t pay for school. A lot of kids will drop out.”

Some universities and colleges statewide are struggling with funding MAP grants, which are for students attending a MAP-approved school who demonstrate financial need. With the ongoing state budget impasse, lawmakers have tried to pass bills that would release funding for the grants.

Linda Thompson, JJC assistant financial aid director, said the state not funding MAP hasn’t affected the college’s students yet.

“Students are concerned about the future, sure, but because JJC has decided to honor the MAP grant, it hasn’t directly impacted the students,” she said.

State Sen. Pat McGuire, D-Joliet, said the need to fund MAP grants is urgent. Higher education advocates are trying to determine what Rauner wants that would allow for funding the grants, he said.

“We’re trying to figure out what the governor wants. He, to my knowledge, has not released his master plan for higher education in Illinois. … Absent a plan from the governor, our schools are forced to make changes in a panic mode rather than in a thoughtful way,” McGuire said.

McGuire filed Senate Bill 2226 in January to appropriate $168 million to the Illinois Student Assistance Commission that would reimburse money that universities and colleges fronted for MAP grants last fall semester. The bill had its first reading Jan. 13 in the Senate. 

Rauner vetoed Senate Bill 2043 – proposing about $397 million for MAP – Feb. 19 as it would “explode” the state’s budget deficit. An attempt by lawmakers to override the veto failed Wednesday. 

MAP grant funding still may come from another proposed piece of legislation, House Bill 2990, filed Feb. 24, 2015, by House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago. 

The bill, which passed the House and had its first reading Friday in the Senate, would appropriate about $397 million to ISAC from the General Revenue Fund for students eligible for MAP. 

In a statement, Rauner criticized the bill because “Illinois taxpayers cannot afford [it].”

Rauner stated support for other legislation that would “achieve major taxpayer savings to pay for higher education and MAP grants,” such as House Bill 6409 and House Bill 4539.

HB 4539 would appropriate $1.6 billion for state universities, community colleges and MAP grants. 

JJC Board President Robert Wunderlich said JJC, which has been fronting the funds for MAP grants, will try to fund them for another semester, whether through reserves in the budget or a loan from the college’s foundation.

“If [students] leave because they can’t pay and they have to go out and get a job, they may never come back,” he said.

McGuire said if MAP grant funding were released it would go to private and public schools. The lack of funding for the grants has been an issue for Lewis University and University of St. Francis, as well as JJC, he said.

Several students at the JJC FAFSA workshop last week said financial aid helps them attend school and eases the burden from other obligations, such as car payments and textbooks.

“School would be one less thing I’d have to worry about,” JJC student Neaya Allen said.

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