Students listened with great anticipation in February as Gov. Bruce Rauner released his fiscal year 2018 budget, hoping to see higher education funding and need-based aid restored after 20 months of surviving on a shoestring budget.
Rauner recommended increasing Monetary Award Program (MAP) grant funding by 10 percent, a critical step toward ensuring more low-income Illinois students can afford tuition. While the recommendation to expand MAP grant funding is commendable, the proposal leaves more than 100,000 high-need students unsupported. The state has not funded MAP grants for students currently enrolled and funding shortages have forced 160,000 eligible students to go without aid each year. Grants covered 100 percent of tuition and fees in 2002, but now only fund 47 percent of costs at two-year community colleges and 32 percent of costs at public universities.
Rauner has recommended cutting funding for higher education by over $270 million relative to fiscal year ’15. This is after colleges and universities have gone almost two years without a full appropriation from the state, forcing massive staff layoffs at campuses across the state and instilling concern among students unsure about the future of their schools and the Illinois education system as a whole. These cuts have contributed to Illinois becoming the second-largest exporter of students to out-of-state schools, a brain drain that threatens Illinois’ economy.
After a decade of disinvestment from our state’s colleges and universities, lawmakers must reverse the course now to ensure students from all incomes can earn a college degree. A few students share how they are impacted by the state’s fiscal crisis.
Moriah Tyler, senior at Northern Illinois University
As a parent, about 90 percent of my income goes toward caring for my child, whether that’s paying for my son’s food and clothing, doctor visits or day care. I was lucky to receive financial aid to attend NIU, because otherwise I would have had to choose between caring for my child and going to school.
Thanks to receiving the aid I need, I graduate this semester and am applying for law school. It’s exciting, but I worry how we’ll be able to make it work, since I know there is not much financial aid available for graduate school. I also plan to leave Illinois for law school — even though it’s my home state, I don’t see many opportunities available here, and without state funding for higher education, chances to get ahead are diminishing even further.
It’s sad that legislators cannot come together to pass a budget when people are hurting so badly in this state. We need a fully funded budget now so that schools can stay open, students can receive their financial aid and eligible parents can take advantage of subsidized child care. Going forward, we need to prioritize funding higher education so that future generations of students can access the education that is so critical to starting a career.
Anthony Mead, senior at Chicago State University
In the not-too-distant past, citizens would check on the overall well-being of their community by asking, “Are the children well?” The desired response would be “the children are well,” emphasizing that when the youth in a community are healthy, the community as a whole is successful. Today, this concern for our children is overshadowed by political agendas rooted in personal gains. When our legislators don’t give young adults the tools they need to succeed in society, everyone loses.
The last two years without a state budget have been incredibly difficult for Chicago State University. Without state legislation that mandates funding colleges and universities, our school has laid off over a third of CSU’s employees and there has been a decrease in productivity as administrators struggle to keep up operations with drastic cuts to their department budgets.
Institutions like Chicago State give students in underserved urban communities an opportunity to receive an education and prepare to give back to our society. At Chicago State, I have had the opportunity to figure out how to make a better life for myself and find mentors invested in my success without having to travel, leaving my family and my community. I’m graduating in May as Chicago State celebrates 150 years of establishment. I hope to see my university exist for another 150 years, and for that to happen Illinois state legislators need to invest in our success.
Emily Tuttle, junior at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
I dreamed of attending University of Illinois my whole life. I knew that an education there could help me achieve both my personal and career goals. But the lack of a state budget has caused professors to look elsewhere for employment, and the opportunities for students to get involved have decreased.
I am worried that as our university is forced to make cuts, the quality of life for students will decrease, and a U of I education will no longer create the same positive student experiences it does now. By not passing a budget, legislators have allowed the value of my education at Illinois to decrease, and are not doing what we have elected them to do.
— This op-ed was submitted by Young Invincibles, a national nonpartisan research and advocacy organization that works to expand economic opportunity for young adults.
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March 16, 2017 at 01:17PM