To the Editor:
We are again at a critical time of year, where the governor proposes his budget and debate ensues about how to balance ever-increasing demands and scarcer resources in the state budget to meet them. Every program and spending line will be scrutinized.
One area stands out where we believe the Governor and his staff got it right: support for an increase in the Monetary Award Program (MAP), which provides grants for needy Illinois citizens to attend a community college, public university, or private college or university in Illinois. This investment in “human capital,” ultimately Illinois’ most precious resource, is vital to the state's economy, and because MAP provides help based on student and family needs, it’s aimed specifically at students who likely would not be able to attend college without a scholarship.
President Obama, along with Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, has adopted goals aimed at raising the proportion of Americans with high-quality degrees and credentials to 60 percent by the year 2025. This is a high bar, and to meet it we must boost the number of college degree holders among traditionally underserved students: low-income students, students of color, first-generation students and adult learners. Illinois is inching toward that goal, but we need to do more, and MAP is the mechanism to make it happen.
Although it’s well-documented that college graduates earn significantly more over their lifetimes, there are a number of other “cost-saving” benefits that should be considered in any policy discussion. According to a 2013 College Board study titled “Education Pays,” people with a bachelor’s degree:
· had an unemployment rate one half that of high school graduates
· were much more likely to be covered by employer-provided health insurance
· Were six times less likely to use public assistance programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps)
· were less likely to smoke and exercised more than high school graduates
· are civically involved in their communities at a rate twice that of high school graduates
· were twice as likely to vote as high school graduates of the same age
Across state government, there are few programs that have a proven record of success that MAP does. When we invest in our citizens, we all benefit from the hand up, not a hand out. My hope is legislators will embrace the governor's call for increased MAP funding this spring.
President, Federation of Independent Illinois Colleges and Universities