Budget crisis likely to turn students, businesses away

By Editor-in-Chief

As tensions surrounding the Illinois budget stalemate continue to build, concerns for the future of higher education in the state are gaining momentum. 

Questions regarding the delayed disbursement of state-funded grants and scholarships like the Monetary Award Program Grant have escalated into queries of the validity and strength of colleges and universities operating in a state that hasn’t had a functional budget for many months. 

As reported May 11, 2015, by The Chronicle, 1,923 students received MAP Grant aid for the 2014–2015 academic year, and $7.3 million total went to Columbia students. 

It has become common knowledge that the Illinois budget standoff has affected thousands of college students in need of supplemental funds for the 2015–2016 academic year, but the problem doesn’t stop there.

Some are questioning whether the state’s financial instability is going to drive prospective undergraduate and graduate students elsewhere, effectively digging Illinois’ finances into a bigger hole. 

In an Oct. 5, 2015, article by The Chronicle, Assistant Vice President of Student Financial Services Cynthia Grunden said there was not yet any reason to believe the MAP Grant program would be shut down or that its funds would be cut, but that students relying on the state-funded aid should consider alternative options to pay off their debts. 

However, students are still without answers after roughly seven months without a state budget. How long can Illinois college students who enrolled in college with the expectation of receiving a certain amount of aid be expected to scrape by?

An opinion piece published Jan. 27, 2016, by Crain’s Chicago Business acknowledged some of the more severe damage the budget crisis could do to Illinois’ reputation in the higher education realm.

With the budget gridlock remaining firm, the Crain’s piece suggests businesses will be more likely than ever to  abandon Illinois if it seems the state can’t offer an educated workforce to build their businesses. 

“What about the promise the state made to the poorest students awaiting [MAP Grants]?” the Crain’s piece questioned. “[The students have] held up their end of the bargain.”

But the businesses aren’t the only ones being driven out of state. As more time passes without progress or reassurance, high school counselors are increasingly likely to discourage young adults from pursuing in-state colleges and universities if they know the students might fare better elsewhere. 

While attending college in-state used to offer students more favorable tuition rates as in-state residents, Illinois students are pressed to leave.

In some cases, students who are not up for the move out of state may opt out of attending college altogether. The budget standoff in relation to education funding does not benefit the state’s finances in the long-term. 

What will those who could not afford in-state tuition in 2016 be able to achieve 10 years down the line? What workforce will Illinois be able to tout if the majority of its residents no longer have the experience of a four-year college or university education?

The Crain’s piece also pointed out the concern that students who are forced to drop out mid-way through college have already received partial aid and accrued thousands of dollars in loans, resulting in no degree but millions of dollars of federal debt.

While the governor may say he’s doing what’s necessary from a business standpoint, the statewide standstill is doing long-term harm to people.