A busload of McKendree University students joined about 250 other Illinois private university students Tuesday at the state capitol to demonstrate in favor of the state funding MAP grants.
Both houses of the legislature passed Senate Bill 2043 on Jan. 28, which would fund MAP grants for students at private schools and community colleges. The group applauded as Senate Democratic leaders hand delivered the bill Tuesday to Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner’s office after months of budget gridlock.
Democrats expressed some optimism that Rauner would sign the bill to fund the grants, which affect about 125,000 Illinois college students.
MAP grants, which stands for Monetary Award Program, provide assistance to qualified students attending for public and private colleges and universities.
The bill doesn’t deal with funding for public universities. They also have been caught up in the state's budget impasse. A delegation of students from public institutions was expected in Springfield on Wednesday to hold a similar rally.
State Sen. Kyle McCarter, R-Lebanon, said in some ways it’s unfair that private school students have been affected by the state budget crisis. McCarter said the state government has been trying to implement reforms in the public college system and that the private college students who rely on MAP grants have been caught up in that effort.
Students roamed the hallways of the state capitol looking for legislators they could lobby about the importance of state map grants to the future of students across Illinois.
“This is a real issue that is affecting real people,” McKendree student Rhoda Warner said. “I’m a senior, so I don’t have to worry about how I’m going to pay for school next year or the year after that. But I have a roommate that needs her MAP grant to stay in school.”
Warner said she appreciates what the state government is trying to do balance Illinois’ budget. But she said it doesn’t make any sense to decrease the number of Illinois residents getting college degrees if state leaders are trying to improve the economy.
“It’s illogical,” Warner said.
McKendree University Executive Director of Communications and Marketing Krysti Connelly said her school, like many others across the state, has been allowing students to continue to attend classes even though the portion of their education costs paid for with MAP grants has not been received. She said, after nearly eight months of state budget stalemate, schools will soon have to decide whether they can afford to keep waiving parts of students’ expenses while they wait for the grants to come in or if they’ll start to turn kids away.
“I haven’t heard anything to indicate that McKendree is considering that,” Connelly said. “But some schools are.”
Other Illinois colleges and universities have been slashing costs and laying off staff to try to make up for the lost grant funding.
While Rauner has previously rejected similar bills with a veto, State Sen. Pat McGuire, D-Cedar Hill, chairman of the Senate’s Higher Education Committee, said he has some hope Rauner will sign this bill.
“I do have some sincere hope,” McGuire said. “Of 20 budget bills that have been submitted, only one has been signed and that had to do with K-12 education. The governor has shown support for child care and for K-12 education, it’s time for him to show that he values post secondary education, too.”
A spokesman for the governor’s office could not immediately be reached for comment. Members of the group rallied outside Rauner’s office for more than an hour, trying to get a response.
McGuire said he doesn’t think there is an excuse for Rauner not to sign the bill. He said the MAP grant program is 50 years old and is not a surprise to anyone in the budget-making process.
McCarter told Connelly that he was less optimistic a MAP grant bill would be signed by the governor in the near future. He predicted that May was a likely time for a state budget compromise.
Connelly said she was unsure of how much impact the students had on the Tuesday vote or the governor’s decision about whether to sign the bill. But she said it’s a good experience for them, regardless.
“Hopefully they were able to help make a step toward progress,” Connelly said. “But any time a student has a chance to get this sort of experience and have their voices heard is truly valuable for a lot of reasons.”