SPRINGFIELD — As Illinois enters a new period of heightened budget uncertainty, colleges and universities must again decide whether to front grant money to low-income students who are supposed to be receiving state aid.
A new survey from the Illinois Student Assistance Commission, which administers the grants through the Monetary Award Program, suggests some schools that covered the grants in the fall aren’t making guarantees for the spring.
Of the 96 colleges and universities that responded to the survey, 53 percent said they would guarantee the funding for the spring semester, down from 60 percent in the fall. Because the commission didn’t receive responses from 36 schools whose students are eligible to receive MAP grants, it cautioned against drawing overarching conclusions from the responses.
“It is important to note that institutions that are crediting student accounts for MAP or listing the award as pending are doing so with the expectation that they will receive payment for MAP from the state,” the commission added.
When lawmakers and Gov. Bruce Rauner approved a stopgap spending plan that’s funding higher education and most other state operations through Dec. 31, they included money to finish paying off last year’s MAP grants. No money was included for the current year, however, leaving public and private universities and community colleges to decide whether to credit students’ accounts for the grants as many had the previous year.
While nearly all public universities covered the grants this fall, only two-thirds are committed to covering them in the spring, according to the survey.
Among those that have made the guarantee are Illinois State, Southern Illinois, Eastern Illinois and Western Illinois universities, school officials said.
Among private colleges and universities that responded to the survey, 70 percent said they covered the grants in the fall, but only 65 percent have made a guarantee for the spring.
Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington is one of the schools that is changing its policy for the upcoming term.
While it covered the grants for all eligible students this fall, it will only do so on a case-by-case basis in the spring, spokeswoman Ann Aubry said.
“We are hopeful the state budget will be resolved, and will lobby on our students’ behalf with our local legislators,” Aubry wrote in an emailed statement. “We’re committed to working with our students to identify alternative funding sources to replace the fall and spring MAP Grant funds — in full or in part — not provided to them by the state.
“This will not be a one-size-fits-all approach, but will be personalized and take into consideration the individual needs of those impacted by this state budget crisis.”
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The percentage of community colleges that plan to cover the grants in the spring actually went up to 39 percent from 27 percent in the fall, according to the survey.
Black Hawk College in Moline didn’t cover the grants in the fall and won’t in the spring either, spokesman John Meineke said.
“We don’t have the resources,” Meineke said, noting that the school did cover the grants last year.
A majority of schools that are covering the grants said they would require students to repay them if the state doesn’t come through with the money or reduces the funding level for the program.
That could ultimately mean problems with enrolling for classes, transferring to other schools or graduating for low-income students who can’t afford to repay their schools.
“More than half of those who said they would require students to pay the shortfall or were undecided about whether to do so indicated that a student’s failure to pay the shortfall will prevent the student from enrolling or transferring with a transcript,” the commission said.