March 1, 2016
By Mary Alice Maloney
On Friday, Feb. 19, Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed Senate Bill 2043, a bill that would have helped fund the college education of low-income students throughout the state of Illinois who have been financially stranded without MAP grant funds since the beginning of the 2015-2016 school year.
Senate Bill 2043 was intended to appropriate $721 million in funding to the Monetary Award Program (MAP) grant and community college programs. According to an official press release from Gov. Rauner, the bill would “explode the State’s budget deficit, exacerbate the State’s cash flow crisis, and place further strain on social service providers and recipients who are already suffering from the State’s deficit spending.”
The ongoing budget battle between Republican Gov. Rauner and Democratic lawmakers, including Speaker of the Illinois House of Representative Michael Madigan, has left 1199 Dominican undergraduate students without MAP grant money. MAP grant funds make up $5.2 million of Dominican’s total tuition revenue, and if no budget is passed in Springfield by the end of this school year, Dominican will be without 8.1 percent of its $64 million operating budget.
Dominican officials recognize the stress students are facing and understand the difficulty of finding the extra money to cover the tuition bill without the assistance of state funding. Just this year there has been a 4 percent drop in student retention rates. Senior Vice President of Finance and Administration, Amy McCormack, has outlined a contingency plan for the Fall 2016 semester.
“Assuming that the state does not support any MAP grants for this year, yes, it is Dominican’s intention to try to cover 50% of the students’ loss, or the equivalent of the fall semester grants,” President Donna Carroll said. “It will be a big stretch for the university, but we are deeply committed to the welfare and continuing education of our students.”
Dominican is still awaiting a resolution from the state. While Gov. Rauner’s current budget proposal for 2016-2017 appears to include allocations for MAP funding, nothing is for certain, and planning for the 2016-2017 academic year here at Dominican has proven to be a little more challenging. Dominican officials are preparing to budget conservatively, as a drop in enrollment is expected due to the lack of MAP funding. This tight budget will most likely include only essential hiring, reduced operating budgets, a tight handle on course offerings and class sizes and, very likely, no salary increase for faculty and staff.
“The above plan will eat into our savings and require significant budget reductions, not only this year, but looking forward,” Carroll said. “We are working on that budget plan right now.”
While Dominican fully sympathizes with students and is working hard to help, many students are still concerned about the possibility of their college educations being jeopardized. They are worried about the immediate implications of the vetoed MAP grant bill.
Some students found Gov. Rauner’s vetoing of Senate Bill 2043 surprising.
Senior Sara Angel said, “I found the decision to be very unexpected. I knew the veto was a possibility, but with all the struggles students are already going through, I didn’t think it would actually happen.”
Freshman Ramiro Urquiza shared Angel’s sentiments saying, “I’m in disbelief because it seems like the majority of students out there need the MAP grant to continue their college education.”
Other students questioned Gov. Rauner’s respect for students in higher education.
“The governor’s decision to not pass the bill is not allowing a lot of college students to eventually finish their degrees,” said sophomore Morganne Schmidt. “Students can take out loans, but that money adds up, and a lot of students are trying to just pay for college right now. Gov. Rauner isn’t recognizing that fact.”
While it’s difficult to stay optimistic in the face of such an indefinite challenge, students adamantly believe that not all hope is lost in this matter and realize that the fight for MAP grant funding is not yet over.
“Even though I’m a graduating senior, I’m concerned about many of the students here at Dominican who have already expressed financial struggles,” Angel said. “I was glad to see the post card writing event held on campus to motivate students to take action. Student action is the most important thing.”
“This is a devastating situation, but I think students should continue to fight for the MAP grant and let their voices be heard,” Urquiza said.
Schmidt found one positive in the vetoing of the MAP grant bill.
“The only good thing about this situation is that students are becoming more aware of their financial aid and what it all means,” Schmidt said. “When they think about how they’re not getting this grant, it puts the rest of their finances into perspective, which is good because you need to be aware of that for the rest of your life.”
“That’s the only good thing, though!” Schmidt continued. “Students are truly struggling and are being affected in a lot of ways, as are colleges and universities throughout Illinois. There are a lot of problems that need to be solved.”
Students, administration and the entire state of Illinois are left in limbo as politicians in Springfield work to find solutions to these problems.
Carroll added, “Our priority in all of the above is to care for our students and preserve that quality and integrity of the academic experience. Dominican University is a resilient institution, with an industrious spirit and a big heart. When the going gets tough, we put our heads together, roll-up our sleeves, and take the challenge as an opportunity to build an even stronger university. I am not just saying that. That’s the truth, and our history.”