Showdown In Springfield Leaves MAP Funds Frozen

February 16, 2016

By Rich Bodee and Mary Alice Maloney

No matter where you go, college has always been expensive. However, the state of Illinois has been known for assisting students in the payment of higher education through the MAP (Monetary Award Program) grant. In the past, students who qualified for the grant have been able to rely on the state funds each semester.

“The Monetary Award Program is designed to financially assist residents who are in the lower third of the income level for the state of Illinois,” said Pamela Johnson, interim vice president of enrollment management.

To be more specific, qualifications include an Expected Family Contribution, or EFC, of less than $9,000.00, being resident of Illinois and the completion of a student’s FAFSA form.

“The purpose of the MAP grant is so that the best students in Illinois don’t decide to go out-of-state for college,” said Johnson.

Dominican University had an additional standard in order to receive the maximum amount of money; a student must be taking a minimum amount of 15 credit hours. Once a student meets all of these requirements, they are eligible to receive the full amount of money, which is $4,720.00 split between two semesters. If a student is under 15 credit hours they will still receive money, but the amount granted will be less. Generally, this is what the process entails. However, the 2015-2016 school year has been different.

On July 1, 2015, the start of a new fiscal year, the state of Illinois did not approve a budget. When colleges in Illinois started classes in the fall, there was still no budget approved. State legislators have repeatedly tried and failed to settle on a budget, but to this date, there is no budget for anything, and that includes the MAP grant funds.

What does that mean? For the fall 2015 semester, after Dominican students received their financial aid packages, Dominican paid $2.6 million to cover the missing MAP grant funds for those who qualified. For the 2015-2016 school year, 50 percent of Dominican students were MAP grant eligible.

“In the fall of 2015, 1,199 students were considered MAP grant eligible and 100 more would have been had they submitted their FAFSA on time,” said Johnson.

Recently, a number of college newspapers throughout the state of Illinois have focused on spring college dropout rates, directly related to students’ inability to pay their tuition without MAP grant funds.

Surprisingly, the number of students who were eligible for MAP grant funds in the spring differed from those in the fall here at Dominican.

“For the spring 2016 semester, 1,082 students were eligible,” said Victoria Lamick, director of financial aid. 

That’s a difference of 117 students between fall 2015 and spring 2016, and it might mean that some students may have left Dominican because they knew they couldn’t afford it without the help of MAP grant funds. Nothing has been confirmed or denied regarding this matter.

Now, that doesn’t mean that the MAP grant is gone forever.

“Dominican is still expecting to receive $5.2 million in funds from state for the MAP grant,” said Johnson.

However, according to David Dolence, political science professor, “As of right now, the state of Illinois promising the MAP grant is nothing more than a political promise. I can’t even articulate how asinine it is that the state is operating without a budget. Normally, the state creates a budget, which needs to be voted on, then appropriates the funds. In light of the budget stalemate, the state of Illinois has proposed appropriating funds without a budget, which is risky, but not unprecedented.”

The tension and turmoil in Springfield stems from a long-standing deadlock between Democrats and Republicans in the state of Illinois. Republican Governor Bruce Rauner and Democratic Speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives Michael Madigan seem to be engaged in a literal standoff that mirrors that of an Old Western gun fight. Each of these gunslingers refuses to back down or come to a compromise.

As for Dominican, university officials are currently in the process of making contingency plans. What the plans will consist of is still unknown, but rest assured Dominican will not throw students out into the street.

Amy McCormack, senior vice president of finance and administration said, “We are very sympathetic to the student situation. I mean, this is higher education and students are our future generation. I’m optimistic that the state recognizes its commitment to students in helping fund education.”

Regardless, concerned students are taking matters into their own hands. Student Government President Will Schuneman sent an email to Dominican students regarding two rallies. The first took place Feb. 11 at Concordia University and the second will take place on Feb. 16 at 11:30 a.m. at the Thompson Center in Chicago. Buses will be leaving Dominican at 10 a.m.

Stay tuned for updates on this ongoing situation.