Written by LaRyssa Herrington. Media by Taylor Neal.
Sometimes education can be messy, and within the framework of these past several weeks, no other statement could be truer. The current buzz in higher education circles is the lack of state funding for Illinois MAP (Monetary Award Program) grants. Due to the current budget crisis in the state of Illinois, private and public universities across the state are being affected by the lack of financial support that was promised to them through the MAP program. Thousands of students across the state receive MAP funding through their financial aid package and currently sit in a position of uncertainty regarding their continuation in school. Greenville College has more than 300 students that receive this type of aid; a package that amounts to about 1.3 million dollars for the college, or around 4,500 dollars apiece per student. Clearly, the MAP grant doesn’t just affect the students who receive it for assistance in paying their tuition; the school also benefits from the money as well, MAP representing five percent of Greenville’s overall budget.
With all of the chaos surrounding the impasse of a state budget, colleges and universities across the state have taken action in response to the issue. In recent weeks, Greenville College has had a number of advocacy events including a letter writing campaign to state and local representatives, and a trip to the state capitol to lobby for MAP funding. On Feb. 9, Greenville College students LaRyssa Herrington, Gabbie Hill, Elle Shaw, and Brent McCollum along with President Ivan Filby attended a press conference at Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville, which was hosted by the Illinois Coalition to Invest in Higher Education and SIUE President Randy Dunn. Hill and Herrington were able to speak about the personal effects of MAP grant funding in their own lives while at the conference, Hill later commenting that it was an honor to represent and advocate for her fellow peers. Unfortunately, other schools such as Eastern Illinois University and Chicago State find themselves on the brink of financial collapse and it is hard to tell how much longer they’ll last in the midst of the looming budget crisis.
Tuesday, Feb. 16, Greenville College staff members Ross Baker and Erika Spring organized a trip to Springfield, Illinois in an attempt to lobby for the MAP grant. Over 70 students along with members of the Greenville College faculty went and spent their day visiting with state legislators expressing their concerns about the negative impacts of the budget impasse. Other schools that were in attendance on capitol hill Tuesday included Blackburn College, Lincoln College, Illinois College and McKendree University. Students visited various offices of available and unavailable legislators and handed out materials about efforts that had been taken in response to the issue. Visited representatives included Rep. Avery Bourne, R-Litchfield; Rep. John Cavaletto, R-Salem; and Sen. Kyle McCarter, R-Lebanon. Sen. McCarter informed student activists LaRyssa Herrington and Jasmine Bavaro that one of the main reasons for MAP’s veto by Gov. Rauner was because universities weren’t meeting certain standards and were in need of serious reform before state officials would hand them more money, e.g. acceptable graduation rates and cost per credit hours, managing personal school budgets well, etc. McCarter asserted that a MAP bill he was working on (2408 SB) along with a companion bill would seek to reform how universities procure goods that would allow them to lower the cost of tuition for their students, taking some of the bureaucracy out of the process. When asked if he believed that other representatives who were currently not in favor of the current MAP bill would vote to keep MAP if reform were involved in a new bill, he responded that he believed they might, based on the history of the program. He concluded by saying that the only thing that has changed in recent years is the cost of higher education, not the funding of the MAP grant program which has stayed at a steady, even rate.
Whether or not the solution is to create reform in higher education before MAP or a set budget that can be passed or to award universities their promised financial aid now is beyond comprehension for most students at this point. It is time for a change. Students are ready and universities are ready. We cannot afford to be held hostage by the state any longer. The people have spoken and their voices are finally being heard.