Universities: Funding MAP grants is a matter of justice

By Michelle Martin
Thursday, February 25, 2016

For college students who rely on Illinois MAP grants and their schools, the uncertainty around funding the financial aid program has created an “untenable” situation, dimming both students’ educational and economic prospects and the credibility of the government, said Donna Carroll, president of Dominican University in River Forest.

More than half of Dominican’s undergraduates, 1,199 students, were awarded MAP grants averaging $4,500 this year, Carroll said. While the awards were made last spring for the fiscal year that started July 1, none of them has been paid. The longer the state goes without a budget for the 2015-2016 fiscal year, the less probable it seems that they will ever be paid.

“It’s not over ‘til it’s over,” Carroll said. “But it’s looking increasingly unlikely.”

To complicate matters further, colleges and universities are in the midst of building financial aid packages for next year, and Illinois institutions of higher education are required to include MAP (Monetary Assistance Program) grants to Illinois students who qualify based on financial need, even though the schools have no assurance that the state will honor those grants.

On Feb. 19, DePaul University said it would honor the grants awarded to its students this year and to incoming students next year, essentially making up the money the state failed to pay.

“You know the name above our door,” said Vincentian Father Dennis Holtschneider, DePaul’s president, in a telephone interview. “St. Vincent de Paul spent his whole life thinking about urban poverty and how you help people at the margins. The surest way to propel someone out of poverty is a strong education.”

Holtschneider announced the decision to honor the state grants after Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed a bill that would have spent $721.5 million to fund the grants and community colleges. The decision affects 4,500 current DePaul students and any incoming freshmen or transfer students for next year who are awarded MAP grants.

The move will cost DePaul about $20 million, he said. “We blew our entire margin. This is not sustainable,” he said.

Carroll said that Dominican simply doesn’t have the resources to do that, but that the university would cover as much as it can and set up payment plans for students to cover the rest.

“We’re a Catholic institution,” she said. “We operate at the margins.”

St. Xavier University is still formulating a response to the MAP grant situation, and Loyola University Chicago is hoping that the grants for the current year eventually will be paid.

Loyola has approximately 2,400 MAP recipients, said Steven Christensen, the university’s director of communications. “For the 2015-16 academic year, we have included the full MAP award as part of each student’s financial aid package, with the expectation that the State of Illinois will fund the program at some point,” he said. “At present, we are having conversations about how to move forward for the 2016-17 academic year.”

All of them, along with the rest of the colleges and universities in the state, are trying to mitigate the effect of the problem on the students, Carroll said. She expects that some students will not be able to continue their educations.

“We are indignant with the state,” she said. “They have pulled the rug out from under the students. When it comes to the students, we feel enormous empathy. We have some of the most financially needy students who have been left in limbo for months on end with no resolution. They have done everything they are supposed to do.” For a financially needy, first-generation college student to have to try and find $4,500 this late in the academic year is very difficult.

In not funding the grants, the state is not only reneging on a commitment it made to students and their schools, but also on its part of the social compact to help alleviate poverty, Holtschneider said.

In modern times, St. Vincent de Paul’s work of helping the poor has been undertaken by a partnership of government, private and religious organizations, he said. Now, “the government has just set aside its support” for these students.

In the statement announcing DePaul’s decision to honor the grants, Holtschneider said he looked forward to Illinois passing a budget that funds the grants. In a later interview, he acknowledged that the state probably will never pay the grants awarded for at least the current academic year.

“That becomes less likely every day,” he said. “They made this commitment, but the state just doesn’t have the cash to pay it.”

About 40 percent of DePaul students are the first in their families to go to college.

“We are providing these students with a chance to make a powerful difference in the world and change their lives and the lives of their families,” he said.

From the state’s perspective, a relatively small investment in financial aid yields huge dividends since college graduates are more likely to be employed, pay taxes and be healthier, Holtschneider said, and a more educated population is attractive to businesses.

Carroll concurred that state’s failure to fund the grants is shortsighted as well as unjust.

“It’s a default not only on an economic promise, but also on an enormous opportunity,” she said.

The situation also has impacted the students’ views of government.

“It’s compromising their sense of the integrity of government,” she said. “It’s compromising their sense of government’s attention to its constituents. The role-modeling is very disturbing, to have leadership at an impasse when it is so apparent the damage that it is doing.”


  • depaul university
  • dominican university
  • loyola university chicago
  • budget impasse
  • st. xavier university
  • catholic universities

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