DeKALB – Thousands of students in DeKalb County have yet to receive millions of dollars in state tuition assistance, and Illinois Treasurer Michael Frerichs wants that to change.
Frerichs, a Democrat who was elected treasurer in 2014, visited Northern Illinois University’s Holmes Student Center on Monday to talk about the state’s lack of funding for the Monetary Award Program.
“Part of the reason I’m traveling around the state is to shine a spotlight on a problem in Springfield,” said Frerichs, a former state senator.
The 16-participant roundtable discussion included NIU chief financial officer Alan Phillips, Kishwaukee College President Tom Choice, state Rep. Bob Pritchard, R-Hinckley, DeKalb Mayor John Rey and DeKalb County Board Chairman Mark Pietrowski Jr. The leaders expressed concern about the effect that not funding the need-based grants for the state’s low-income college students is having now – and will have in the future.
“A lot of people think there’s not really a big consequence to this,” said Frerichs, who was chairman of the Senate’s higher education committee. “We want to point out that, as students are going back to school, the need to make funding for higher education – specifically for MAP grants – a priority.
In August, the Illinois Student Assistance Commission announced that funding for MAP grants would be halted in the absence of a state budget for this fiscal year. Universities such as NIU have tried to blunt the impact on their students who would have received the state aid.
But other colleges, such as the two-year Kishwaukee College, can’t afford to bridge the gap – even for a little while.
Choice said that more than 300 of Kishwaukee’s students qualified for the grant – for a total of about $212,000 in aid. But the community college, located about five miles from NIU, won’t be crediting students their MAP awards.
“We have deferred their payments, to this point. But we can’t defer it forever – indefinitely,” Choice said. “We’re [already] four months behind in payments from the state, and for us that’s $1.3 million. That’s a lot of money for us.”
Rainn Darring II, who is president of NIU’s Campus Activities Board, told Frerichs that for the first time in his college career, Darring is having anxiety about being able to take all the classes he’ll need to graduate on time in May.
“I would never have thought that, going into my last year, [MAP grant funding] would be my biggest worry,” said Darring, a corporate communications major.
ISAC said that as many as 130,000 students are expecting a MAP grant this school year. The Senate passed a bill Aug. 19 that created stand-alone legislation to appropriate $343 million for MAP. The bill is now stalled in a House committee and Pritchard, who said he would vote in favor of the legislation, doesn’t think it will pass.
“Unfortunately, the bill that would fund MAP ... is like so many other bills,” Pritchard said. “It’s looking at one or two programs without any recognition of how that fits into the overall budget,”
Richard A. Goldberg, a spokesman for Gov. Bruce Rauner, said Monday that the MAP legislation in the House “would simply pave the way for more debt or higher taxes – and Gov. Rauner would veto it.”