In less than a week, students will be moving into the residence halls at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, but many still won’t know whether their tuition bill is paid.
Thousands of Illinois college students receive tuition assistance in the form of the Monetary Assistance Program grant, which is a state grant for low-income college students. Administered by the Illinois Student Assistance Commission, the grants are awarded based on the family’s income and the number of classes a student plans to take.
Each year, students apply beginning Jan. 1 and if they meet the guidelines, the grants are awarded until the program runs out of money, at which point they stop taking applications. This year, applications were cut off on Feb. 22, though a small pilot program offered additional grants until Aug. 15 for displaced workers going back to school.
The students received a letter months ago informing them of their grants, which can only be applied to tuition and mandatory fees. Unlike federal Pell grants, they cannot be used for books, housing or other expenses. The grants also can only be used at approved colleges; in the metro-east, that includes SIUE, McKendree University, Lewis & Clark Community College and Southwestern Illinois College. Although it has a Belleville campus, St. Louis-based Lindenwood University does not appear on the approved list.
However, the state budget delay is complicating matters for universities. Without a final budget, the state cannot disburse the funds to the universities for the MAP grants promised to the students. The grants are in a holding pattern until a final budget is approved.
According to ISAC, it is up to the individual schools to determine how they will handle the situation, as students are reporting for classes in the next week or two.
“We know that some schools will be crediting student accounts for MAP as they await payment from the state, but other schools may be unable to do so for a variety of reasons,” read a statement from ISAC. “Students are encouraged to check with their school’s financial aid office to see how the school is planning to address MAP payments.”
MAP can be a significant part of a student’s plan to fund college tuition: the grant can be as much as half the cost of a semester’s bill for the lowest-income students. That means the amount of money the colleges are floating also can be quite high. While statistics for this year’s class were not yet available, last year more than $9.6 million went to the three public metro-east colleges alone.
Most colleges and universities are gambling that the state will come through, including the University of Illinois and the four local colleges. Scott Belobrajdic, SIUE associate vice chancellor for enrollment management, said the state has never reneged on its promise to the students.
“In the past, the state has reduced MAP funding by moving up the deadlines to fund fewer students,” Belobrajdic said. “They have not promised money to students and then pulled it away from them.”
At SIUE, an average of 2,900 students have received approximately $8 million in MAP grants per year for the past three years. That average is projected to continue for this fall, Belobrajdic said.
“We are proceeding with full MAP grant funding for the fall semester, because we anticipate full MAP funding will be given, just delayed, which has happened in the past,” Belobrajdic said.
No policy has been developed at SIUE for what might happen if the state does not come through with the grants, Belobrajdic said, though SIUE administrators are watching the budget discussions as they unfold. “Nothing definite has been decided about SIUE’s role in covering any possible reduction in the state of Illinois’ need-based award program,” he said.
Last year at SWIC, 1,293 students received a MAP grant in the fall and 1,071 students received it in the spring, with about $1.065 million in funds awarded. Robert Tebbe, SWIC’s director of financial aid, said the college is processing MAP grants as planned for the fall semester, and students will be contacted individually by the financial aid office with further details about their accounts.
At Lewis & Clark Community College, 542 students received a MAP grant last year, for a total of $518,284 in aid. This year, Lewis & Clark students with MAP grants are being permitted to enroll and attend classes, and their account balances are being placed on a hold status until the state funding matter is resolved, according to Lori Artis, vice president for administration.
“If MAP funding is not provided by the state, the college will work with students to establish payment options,” Artis said.
McKendree University declined to provide specific numbers on how many students receive the grant, but said that the number who qualify for and depend on the grant is “significant.”
“McKendree is committed to honoring the MAP grant amount reflected in their financial aid award package,” said Chris Hall, vice president of admission and financial aid. “We will do what is necessary to ensure that financial aid packages are not affected by a possible delay or reduction in the state grant program.”
While it is possible that funding for MAP grants could be reduced or eliminated in the final budget, the governor’s proposed budget held funding level with the previous year at $373 million, and the budget passed by the General Assembly actually increased funding to $397 million. Statewide, about 125,000 students receive a MAP grant.
Students who receive the MAP grant must be U.S. citizens and Illinois residents; demonstrate financial need; attend an approved college and maintain satisfactory academic progress toward their first college degree and may not be in default on student loans, among other requirements.
Contact reporter Elizabeth Donald at email@example.com or 618-239-2507.
MAP by the numbers
SIUE: An average of 2,900 students, $8 million per year
SWIC: 1,293 students in the fall and 1,071 in the spring, $1.065 million per year
Lewis & Clark: 542 students, $518,284 per year