Aurora University lays off staff, cites concerns over state MAP grant funding

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Aurora University is laying off or changing contracts for faculty and staff in anticipation of having to cover a state college assistance program, university officials said.

Facing uncertainty about the state Monetary Award Program, known as MAP grants, the school is looking to cover the money pledged to students, said Steven McFarland, vice president for university communications. To do so, Aurora University is laying off or changing contracts of about 45 faculty and staff this school year, he said.

Employees in about 15 administrative positions – which includes anyone who doesn’t teach in a classroom – have been laid off, and the school anticipates changing the contracts of about 30 lecturers, McFarland said. Of those lecturers, who McFarland said are on year-to-year contracts, about half have been offered different teaching positions at the school, and the remaining contracts will not be renewed when they expire at the end of the year.

“We’ve made the commitment that our students shouldn’t suffer because of that stalemate in Springfield,” he said.

MAP grants are pledged to students before the start of the school year, but the money is only sent to schools if it’s appropriated by the legislature and approved by the governor. Illinois is in its second year without a state budget, and so far no money has been appropriated for MAP grants for fiscal year 2017.

State. Sen. Linda Holmes, whose district includes Aurora University, said MAP grants are “vitally” important, and state funding for universities has been “catastrophic.” Teachers could opt to teach elsewhere and, without MAP grants, students could choose not to attend college, she said.

“It’s an enormous problem with enormous, far-reaching consequences,” she said.

The state has for several years committed around $6 million in MAP grant funding to Aurora University students, McFarland said. In past years, it has only come through with a portion of that, he said, and this year Aurora University expects to cover the entire amount.

For the 2016-17 school year, slightly more than $6.1 million was awarded to more than 1,500 Aurora University students, McFarland said. The average grant for each student is more than $4,000, he said.

McFarland said the state for several years has paid less and less promised MAP money, dating back to before the budget stalemate, and the school has made up the difference. University officials don’t know whether MAP will exist in the future and are taking the budget situation into account. So they are “recalibrating” the school budget to make up for that, he said.

The administrator layoffs and the lecturer contracts that will not be renewed are expected to save the school about $2 million, McFarland said. He could not estimate the savings to the college from offering the lecturers different, non-lecturer teaching positions.

McFarland said this is the first time in at least 15 years the school has had moderate or large-scale layoffs. The layoffs were not a reflection of faculty or staff performance, he said.

In the past, the school has covered a portion of MAP grant funding by cutting back spending across departments, McFarland said.

“We’ve seen the state less and less able to fulfill their commitment to students, and their actual fulfillment of the promises they’ve made has gotten less and less each year,” McFarland said. “And it finally just crossed that breaking point for us and for our board of trustees.”

sfreishtat@tribpub.com

Twitter @srfreish

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March 1, 2017 at 04:54AM

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Aurora University lays off staff, cites concerns over state MAP grant funding

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