For nearly one year, leaders in Illinois’ government have been unable to come to an agreement on the state’s multi-million dollar budget.
As a result, non-profit agencies and various social services have been unsure of current and future funding, and budgets are being cut across the state. Drug and alcohol treatment centers, services for senior citizens and rape crisis clinics are just a few of the services feeling the weight of cuts due to Illinois’ current financial situation.
A state without a budget is a pretty big deal, yes, but the majority of university students probably weren’t aware of the way in which Illinois’ fiscal crisis has played out in the last year. As students with busy lives and our own problems to deal with, it’s easy to forget how big government decisions, or lack thereof in this case, can impact our everyday lives.
But this year, students — particularly those with residency in Illinois — took notice. While the state figures out a new budget, threats to cut a significant portion of students’ financial aid caught their attention.
On Feb. 16, more than 200 students from colleges across Illinois rallied outside the Thompson Center — the headquarters for state government — in support of funding Monetary Award Program (MAP) grants, which help finance the education of Illinois residents who attend college in Illinois and demonstrate financial need. The money doesn’t need to be paid back to the state.
One week prior to the protests, emails from Loyola faculty and administrators circulated, encouraging students to voice their concerns to Gov. Bruce Rauner, who, according to various reports, planned to veto Senate Bill (SB) 2043. The bill would have provided about $397 million to MAP grants, as previously reported by The PHOENIX. The hashtag #MAPMatters went viral, as concerned individuals used social media as a platform to voice disapproval of Rauner’s anticipated veto.
But in the end, none of the efforts made by students, faculty or concerned voters were enough to change the governor’s mind.
As expected, on Friday, Feb. 19 — just three days after the Thompson Center protests — Rauner vetoed SB 2043, according to a press release from the Office of the Illinois State Treasurer.
MAP grants are annually calculated based on a formula computed by the Illinois Student Assistance Commission (ISAC). The necessary information is gathered through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and considers factors such as family income, family size, the number of family members in college and family assets, according to Loyola’s financial aid website.
The decision to veto SB 2043 directly affects the near 2,400 Loyola students — close to 20 percent of the undergraduate student body — who receive MAP grants each year, according to interim President John Pelissero. The PHOENIX previously reported that, on average, grant recipients are awarded $2,800 annually, with a maximum aid of $4,720 per year.
It doesn’t end there. The veto also affects students at Arrupe College, Loyola’s two-year associate degree college located on the Water Tower Campus. Nearly 90 percent of Arrupe students rely on MAP grants to attend the junior college, according to Loyola’s Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Robert Munson.
In Arrupe’s first academic year, around 150 students — all of whom are low-income students from the Chicago area — enrolled for the fall 2015 semester. To learn more about how MAP grants affect Loyola and Arrupe students, read the news story about it here.
But this isn’t just a Loyola problem. In Illinois, close to 125,000 students received MAP grants during the 2014-15 school year, said the Managing Director of Communication for ISAC Lynne Baker in a recent interview with The PHOENIX.
Despite the potential grant cuts, Loyola chose to credit MAP recipients with the amount they were awarded for the 2015-16 school year based on their FAFSA. Not all schools took such a risk, but Loyola did. And now that the state no longer has a budget to offer those students aid, Loyola has to decide how it will cover those costs — if at all.
When asked how exactly Loyola plans to cover the cost of aid it has already credited to students’ accounts, officials couldn’t or wouldn’t offer specifics.
If Loyola cannot front the grant costs, students with MAP grants credited to their accounts may be expected to pay it back to the school.
At the state level, the possibility remains that the decision will be reversed, according to Loyola’s Vice President for Government Affairs Philip Hale. The Illinois Senate, he said, has pledged to override the veto.
In an ideal world, the Senate would do just that and MAP grant funding would be reinstated. In an ideal world, the government would step up to reimburse students for any money they may end up owing Loyola because the school has fronted their MAP grants.
But we don’t live in an ideal world. We live in Illinois. And if the last eight months taught us anything about local government, it’s that not every politician has the public’s best interest in mind.
Paired with next year’s across-the-board four percent tuition increase, these budget cuts aren’t merely politics we can ignore. Loyola students are already beginning to feel the repercussions of big government decisions — decisions that sometimes seem too far above our heads for us to really grasp their significance.
Normally, this is the point at which we, The PHOENIX Editorial Board, offer some kind of solution or a few pearls of wisdom. But in this case, we’re just frustrated. As students, we deserve better than this.
We’re tired of our leaders stringing us along, arguing to no end.
To the leaders in our government: Stop wasting our time.