As the semester closes, students are looking toward next year’s plans — including how they’ll pay for tuition. But the Illinois budget impasse is leaving the fate of Monetary Award Program (MAP) grants, an important part of student financial aid, uncertain yet again.
MAP grants are offered to Illinois residents attending Illinois schools. The Illinois Student Assistance Commission awards these funds to students in financial need, and they don’t need to be repaid. But MAP grants have faced instability in recent years as Illinois officials go back and forth on state budgets.
With no budget passed for fiscal year 2017 — which spans from July 1, 2016 to June 30, 2017 — Loyola could lose millions covering MAP grants for more than 2,300 students receiving it this year.
While Loyola hasn’t spent any money covering the grants so far, according to an email from senior vice president for finance and chief financial officer Robert Munson, the university has set aside $10 million in case the state doesn’t distribute MAP funds.
This is the second time Loyola has done this.
Last year, a temporary state budget reimbursed Loyola $10 million for funding students’ MAP grants for the 2015-16 school year, The PHOENIX reported.
But without a passing budget for 2016-17, Loyola is unsure of its next moves regarding the grant for the 2017-18 school year. Munson stated in the email to The Phoenix that Loyola is “having conversations about how to move forward” for the upcoming year.
For students like senior Stephanie Mendoza, MAP grants are a crucial part of their education.
Mendoza, 24, has two children and a sick father. The first-generation college student said MAP grants are essential to her family, helping with necessities such as rent and food, not just tuition.
Mendoza, a political science major, said she cried when funding finally went through last semester.
“I was extremely happy and grateful … for me it was like being told, you know, ‘You can sign up for classes next semester. You’ll be okay. You won’t have a hold on your account.’ So it kind of goes beyond just, ‘Oh, I have money,’” Mendoza said.
The university is “optimistic” that the state will approve MAP funding for fiscal year 2017, Munson stated. If the state does not follow through with funding, however, students will not be required to repay the grants, according to Munson.
The Illinois House of Representatives passed a partial budget April 6 that primarily focuses on giving aid to social services and four-year public universities.
The budget would provide $287 million in funding toward MAP grants. This would cover about 82 percent of the grants awarded for fiscal year 2017, according to Vice President for Government Affairs Philip Hale.
Hale, who advocates for Loyola in Springfield on issues such as MAP grants, said the main goal now is to try to get the partial or stopgap budget passed in the Senate. However, Gov. Bruce Rauner is against such “stopgap” budgets as a temporary solution, instead hoping to come up with a comprehensive budget.
“Stopgap spending plans do nothing to balance the budget. They don’t grow jobs, they don’t freeze property taxes and they don’t fix our broken system,” Rauner said in a video posted to his Facebook page April 5.
Rauner supports MAP grants, requesting they be increased 10 percent next year, according to Hale, but the governor’s wish to pass a complete budget is stalling the effort.
“The irony with MAP grants — and I think it shows … the dysfunction that is in Springfield right now — is that there’s no one who’s opposed to it,” Hale said. “There’s no one who’s saying, ‘The state shouldn’t do this. The state shouldn’t support these students, shouldn’t support MAP grants. We need to do something different with the state dollar.’ That’s not the argument.”
Hale said it’s difficult to predict what will happen for MAP grants for the 2017-18 year if Loyola isn’t reimbursed for fiscal year 2017.
“Even a partial budget now, with this 82 percent, would give every college and university in Illinois, not just us … significant hope that the state might also fund MAP in FY18. But we just don’t know right now,” Hale said.
Loyola released financial aid awards to students April 21 and included MAP grants in packages. Universities must offer these grants by law, according to Hale, subject to provisions. It hasn’t been decided yet what those provisions will be if Loyola is not reimbursed for the grants.
While Mendoza graduates in May, she said she worries about MAP funding for the sake of remaining students at Loyola.
“I think it’s important for our representatives and people [who] have these decisions in their hands to kind of understand, you know, these are … human beings,” Mendoza said.
Hale said he’s hopeful that the partial budget will likely make it past the Illinois Senate, which would then turn the focus to convincing Rauner to approve the measure.
Hale said students can still make a difference by contacting their own state representatives, state senators and Rauner to advocate for MAP funding and the partial budget.
Illinois residents can find their state representatives and senators at the Illinois Board of Elections website. Non-residents can still advocate for MAP by contacting another state representative or senator or contacting firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.