Editorial: Why must Illinois win the battle for MAP grants?

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We’ve yet to encounter a single elected official in Springfield who doesn’t say they love Illinois’ MAP grant program.

Yet, once again, as families and students of modest means ready to make higher education choices for next year, they have no idea whether they will have the Monetary Assistant Program grants they need to go to Illinois institutions.

The Illinois budget stalemate clobbering higher education and sparking the unacceptable uncertainty in MAP grant availability are sending a growing number of Illinois’ brightest and best fleeing to out-of-state schools. Sadly, too many will put down roots in their adopted states and never come back.

In addition, for many lower-income students, the loss of MAP grants means more than relocating to a new school. It can put an end to their dream of a college education. That kind of loss is hard to quantify. But to get a better idea of what MAP grants can do when used the way they were intended, consider Augustana College junior Kumail Hussain.

Without MAP, this first-generation American son of Pakistani immigrants from Chicago’s south side would not be able to pursue his dream of becoming a doctor.

Mr. Hussain, who joined Augustana President Steven Bahls to talk MAP grants with our editorial board last week, is a hard working young scholar who clearly appreciates the opportunities MAP has helped to create.

In addition to his dual major in pre-medicine and Spanish, he is active on campus and in a community he says he’s grown to love, including volunteering as a translator for a local church. Though the up to $5,000 MAP grant he has qualified to receive wouldn’t begin to cover his full education tab, his ability to remain in college is dependent upon it. As anyone who goes to college knows, costs don’t stop at room and board and tuition.

And it’s not as though he can simply go out and get another job. Students such as Kumail already work more than one. Besides there are only so many hours in the day and, if you want to get into a good graduate or medical school, you must earn the grades to get there.

Mr. Hussain is fortunate because Augustana College is one of a declining number of institutions continuing to cover missing grants for 724 lower-income Augustana students, who represent about 30 percent of the college’s student population.

Many public institutions and some private have already been forced to stop shouldering the costs as they tighten their belts while the damaging state budget impasse drags on.

The good news is that one of the bills being considered in Springfield as part of a bipartisan budget “grand bargain” would send $1.1 billion to MAP grant recipients, such as Kumail, and to students at our community colleges and the state’s public universities. It helps that legislative leaders and Gov. Bruce Rauner are on record in supporting the program. But the bill’s existence does not ensure its final passage; after all, everyone says they love MAP grants, right?

The time for talk is over. The only way to do that is for rank-and-file lawmakers and Illinois citizens to insist that MAP grants are part of the final solution, period.

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Editorial: Why must Illinois win the battle for MAP grants?

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