Local colleges, universities continue to educate despite no state funding

  • Written by By Joe Boyle

While Gov. Rauner and House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-22nd) continue their grudge match in the latest round of the budget impasse, local colleges and universities are remaining afloat despite no funding – at least for now.

Some administrators at colleges and universities throughout the state have sent letters to students informing them that they have to return funds provided to them through the Monetary Awards Program, or MAP grants.

Low income students at Illinois Institute of Technology received the news. Although IIT students did not receive any MAP grants last September, the school decided to give credit to students who qualified. The reasoning behind that was school officials believed the budget impasse would end soon.

Since the stalemate has continued, IIT administrators have said they could not afford MAP grants for the spring semester. On March 30, students received word that their MAP grant credit from the fall semester would be taken off their account. This means students would have to either pay back the MAP credit in full, or pay it back through a 12-month loan. This could prevent them from registering for the summer and fall classes, which began for most institutions on Monday.

Officials at Trinity Christian College in Palos Heights said that no changes are being made for now. Students with MAP grants at St. Xavier University have been asked to meet with staff in the financial aid office. SXU students that have been receiving MAP grants have been asked as of Friday to make an appointment with members of the financial aid office.

St. Xavier University officials have previously said the institution remains in good shape but would like to see the budget impasse resolved soon.

State Rep. Kelly Burke (D-36th), whose districts includes Chicago’s Southwest Side, Evergreen Park and portions of Oak Lawn, was the chief sponsor of legislation that became Senate Bill 2043. The measure would have increased funding for MAP grants by more than $32 million. St. Xavier students were eligible to receive about $7 million in MAP grants while students at Moraine Valley Community College in Palos Hills should have received $2.4 million

Rauner has since vetoed two versions of that bill, stating that the legislation would only increase the state’s debt because no additional funding is being provided. Burke and state Sen Bill Cunningham (D-18th) stated in response that they are willing to negotiate to come up with an alternative. However, both legislators have said that they do not want to see collective bargaining lessened or eliminated. Rauner’s “turnaround agenda” calls for restrictions on collective bargaining and curbing the influence of union leaders.

Burke said that legislators are back at work this week. However, she said that much still has to be done.

“We’re back at this week but nothing is really going on,” said Burke. “There have been some informal talks but not overall meetings. We can only hope.”

Officials at Moraine Valley Community College have said despite the fact the budget lockdown is now in its 10th month, the local institution has weathered the storm well.

“We’re coping,” said Mark Horstmeyer, spokesperson for Moraine Valley. “We have always been very careful. We have always been fiscally conservative. But I’ve heard some people say this could continue another year or two. At that time, if that happens, we would have to do something.”

MAP grants are issued to students attending state schools based on financial need. Grants can be as much as $5,000. More than 125,000 students across the state are enrolled in the MAP program. Higher education has become another stumbling block in budget discussions. Rauner has proposed cutting higher education funding by 20 percent