Mixed feelings greet partial funding of student grants

By Michelle Martin
Sunday, May 1, 2016

Catholic universities in the Archdiocese of Chicago said they are pleased that their students will receive some of the funding they were promised by the state of Illinois as part of a higher education spending bill signed April 25, but are still in limbo in terms of what they can expect.

The bill includes funding for just under half the amount the state promised needy students for this school year as part of the Monetary Assistance Program.

“I feel relieved, I feel appreciative and I feel disappointed,” said Donna Carroll, president of Dominican University in River Forest. Carroll is hoping that the university will receive the MAP grants for the fall 2015 semester, and that the money will come before the July 1 end of the fiscal year. “This has given us some relief, but it is by no means clarity for the long term. It is by no means a resolution of this mess.”

“We are very pleased that at least a partial payment of MAP funding will be released so that our students receive the support they were promised and need to continue their education,” said St. Xavier University President Christine Wiseman. “It is our hope that the state will put partisanship aside in order to continue bringing political interests together not only for the good of our universities and colleges, but also for the good of our social-service agencies, which are critical to so many with no other recourse, and the good of this entire state.”

The $170 million in MAP money comes as part of a $600 million stopgap funding measure signed by Gov. Bruce Rauner. The bill was designed to keep public universities open through the summer, providing $356 million for public universities and $74 million for community colleges.

MAP grants are awarded to legal Illinois residents who demonstrate financial need and attend private or public colleges in the state.

Carroll’s mixed emotions were echoed by leaders of other institutions, who say the money will not go far enough.

“We’re pleased that DePaul will receive a minimum amount of funding through this legislation, however it does not cover the state’s previous commitments,” said Carol Hughes, executive director of DePaul University’s News and Information Bureau in a response to emailed questions. “We do not know yet how much of the state’s commitment this law will cover for DePaul specifically. We have heard that first-term payments will be processed, which for DePaul may amount to only a third of what the state owes for the 2015-16 academic year.”

DePaul announced in February that it would cover the MAP grants awarded to its students this year and for any incoming freshmen or transfer students next year. At the time, DePaul’s president, Vincentian Father Dennis Holtschneider, estimated the move would cost the school $20 million.

Funding for higher education has been in jeopardy since the Democratic-controlled legislature and Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner have been unable to come to an agreement on an overall budget since the fiscal year started on July 1. The money is less than a third of what was included in the budget bill the legislature approved last May — a budget Rauner vetoed. That budget had a deficit of nearly $4 billion.

The budget impasse happened after students were awarded MAP grants as part of their financial-aid packages last spring, and the promised money never came. The state required Illinois institutions to include the grants in financial aid packages for next year as well, although universities don’t know whether — or at what level — they will be funded, which could leave students liable for thousands of dollars in tuition and fees that they thought would be covered.

DePaul said incoming students will not have to worry, Hughes said.

“We remain committed to honoring MAP funding for incoming and transfer students for the fall, and given our mission, we also will do as much as we possibly can to maximize our support next fall for all our students who choose to continue to pursue degrees at DePaul.

About half of Dominican’s undergraduates were awarded MAP grants this year, Carroll said, and the university cannot afford to cover that cost.

While the new money will help, she said, “for our students, this still leaves a significant gap.”

The funding crisis has created a new solidarity between students who receive MAP grants and their undocumented peers, who are not eligible for any state funding, Carroll said, and between students who are not eligible for MAP and those who are.

“They understand that the loss of MAP would jeopardize the diversity of the economic environment we strive for,” Carroll said.

Nearly 200 Dominican students traveled to Springfield to lobby for funding before the bill passed.

“They walked away feeling like they had an impact, so that’s positive,” she said. Still, “It’s a very oppressive environment for students and faculty alike. The longer it goes on, the more exhausting it is. This has exposed the students that are financially fragile. It’s embarrassing to their families.”

Hughes called on the state government to continue to move forward.

“If the legislature can build on this compromise and pass a complete budget, DePaul’s students and students throughout the state will be better off,” she said.


  • catholic schools
  • depaul university
  • dominican univeristy
  • budget impasse
  • st. xavier university

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