SPRINGFIELD—Thirty-three Elmhurst College students joined more than 2,000 university and college students from across Illinois at a protest Thursday in the state capital to demand the reinstatement of Illinois MAP grant scholarships.
Wearing bright blue-and-white t-shirts emblazoned with “Elmhurst College” on the front and “SAVE MAP” across the back, the students rallied at the Illinois Education Association to protest budget cuts in the Monetary Award Program, or MAP, which helps needy students pay for tuition at public universities and private and community colleges in the state.
"Close the gap! Save the MAP!" chanted the throngs as they marched on to the Capitol and moved inside to press their case. "You got the funds," they roared, "we got the future!"
Joined by six College faculty and staff members, the Elmhurst students broke into groups inside to personally lobby Gov. Pat Quinn and then their respective state representatives and senators.
The lawmakers got the word. The Senate and House voted to approve $205 million in new funds to cover MAP grants, now unfunded for the Spring Term. The Governor said he will sign the bill Sunday at the James R. Thompson Center in Chicago in a public signing at 1:30 p.m. It’s not clear if all funding issues are resolved: State Rep. Dennis Reboletti, whose district includes the College, said state government still needs to find an actual revenue stream to provide the funds.
Elmhurst College Junior Susana Gonzalez, 30, of Bensenville, told State Sen. Dan Cronin outside the Senate Chamber that her dream of studying to be a neurosurgeon had been jeopardized by the cutoff of MAP funding. She is considering scaling back that dream and aiming instead to study to be a physician's assistant because it might be quicker, less costly and more attainable. A single mother with two children, she also faces the prospect of delaying her education and she told Cronin she was "terrified" of the consequences of no MAP funding.
Cronin also shook hands with Elmhurst sophomore Jake Meding, 19, of Elmhurst, and with freshmen Pamela Silva, 18, of Zion, and Nat Brautigam, 18, of Vernon Hills, and listened to their appeals for the state to restore MAP funding. Then Cronin joined senators in the chamber for the vote on a MAP appropriation for the second semester, which was approved 56-to-1.
"By their actions in Springfield today, Illinois lawmakers have signaled they heard our voices and intend to restore MAP funding for students at Elmhurst College and across the state,” said College President S. Alan Ray. “This is a tremendous victory for our students and thousands of others who have worked so hard for this cause: to stay in school and realize their dreams. I commend our legislators and all our students, families, faculty, staff and trustees who have taken up this fight with us to save MAP funding. I am very proud of the success they have achieved.
"I urge our lawmakers to commit to providing full, annual MAP funding so every year our students and their parents can plan for college safe in the knowledge that the state of Illinois is doing its part to support higher education."
David W. Tretter, president of the Federation of Independent Illinois Colleges & Universities, called it “a historic day” after the legislature’s approval of new spending authority for MAP grants. “Questions still remain about the mechanics of where revenue will be found, but we believe that the grassroots efforts of thousands of Illinois students in Springfield today sent a clear message to the House and Senate that these need-based grants must remain a top priority in Illinois.
“A sincere thank you is in order,” he added. “The energy, personal stories and authentic advocacy of these college students, marching hand in hand with their public university and community college counterparts, had an emotional effect on everyone in attendance, as well as decision makers in the Capital.”
Carrie J. Hightman, chairwoman of the Illinois Board of Higher Education (IBHE), noted that, “this unprecedented outpouring of concern of students from across Illinois is a powerful testament to the need for, and value of the Monetary Award Program.”
For weeks, Dr. Ray has urged students, faculty and trustees to write, call and e-mail their state representatives and state senators to protest the cutoff of more than $200 million in MAP funding for the Spring Term. Nearly 138,000 eligible MAP students across the state were potentially impacted by the cuts. About one-third of Elmhurst College undergraduates, more than 820 students, stand to lose their funding for the Spring Term if MAP funding is not restored.
“When economic times are at their worst, it is the poor who suffer the most,” wrote Ray and DePaul University President Rev. Dennis H. Holtschneider in a joint opinion piece published Wednesday in the Chicago Tribune. “The state is in the midst of an unprecedented financial crisis, but cutting access to college for students most in need of financial aid is a deplorable public policy decision.
“Research shows that 75 percent of students who drop out of college for financial reasons never return. That is tragic for an entire cohort of students, and it is damaging for Illinois as well.”
The Springfield student lobby day came at a critical time in the MAP funding crisis, with the Governor and lawmakers finally moving deliberately toward striking a funding compromise to restore MAP money for Spring Term.
Illinois legislators say to fund MAP, they must find a new revenue source or make trims elsewhere in the budget. "I've sponsored MAP grants for eight years," Sen. Cronin told Elmhurst students. "I'll do all I can to get this done. But the state is $8 billion in debt."
State Sen. Terry Link also met with Gonzalez, Meding, Silva and Brautigam, as the funding appropriation was gathering steam. “You have your money,” he assured them. “Now, you better get a good education. We should not have money be a problem for education.”