What is a student center without students?

While the state continues to function without a budget, Illinois colleges must choose whether or not to fund students’ Monetary Award Program grants for a second academic year.  These state-funded grants for low-income students can make or break their ability to attend college at all.

Some schools, such as the Illinois Institute of Technology, are seeking repayment of funds advanced in Fall 2015, while wealthier schools, such as Northwestern University, have no problem making up the deficit. Columbia has already funded MAP grants for the 2015–2016 academic year, but the college announced on April 4 it is unable to fund grants for the 2016–2017 year, as reported April 4 by The Chronicle.

If the state budget is not finalized by the start of the next academic year, Columbia’s decision not to fund MAP grants could have drastic consequences.

Ultimately, it is the state’s responsibility—not the college’s—to pay for these grants. However, a college exists to support its students, and the decision not to fund MAP grants for the next academic year should not be taken lightly.

In the April 4 article, President and CEO Kwang-Wu Kim said in making this decision, the college is trying to find the balance between “protecting students and keeping the college moving toward the things we’re all excited about.”

These comments suggest the college has an existence apart from its students. But, with no students, there could be no college, so Columbia must consider and cater to the needs of its students above all else.

Regardless of Columbia’s harrowing financial situation, it is difficult to accept that the college can find ways to raise funds for the student center but is not making financial aid its top priority.

The college has resources like the Office of Development and Alumni Relations, which has the mission of raising “funds in support of the people and programs that make Columbia College Chicago an exceptional institution.” 

The Office of Development and Alumni Relations should make finding ways to make up for lost MAP grants a priority.

Columbia’s mission statement defines the college as “an urban institution whose students reflect the economic, racial, cultural, and educational diversity of contemporary America.”

MAP grants allow students from diverse economic backgrounds to attend college. Discontinuing the funding of MAP grants will likely prevent many current students from continuing their Columbia education and discourage prospective students from enrolling here.

While the college could not estimate how many students at Columbia would be eligible for MAP grants during the next academic year, more than 1,800 current students received MAP grants for the 2015–2016 academic year, as reported April 4 by The Chronicle.

Columbia provides scholarships and financial aid for students independent of MAP grants. One solution is to offer more need-based scholarships at Columbia, but reducing funding for students who get academic scholarships should not be the result.

Students who get academic scholarships, while they may not be eligible for need-based aid, should be able to rely on those scholarships to pay for college.

The decision is difficult to make, but if putting something like the student center on hold would mean the college could pay for MAP grants, it is the best solution.  

The goals of the Strategic Plan are laudable and the center will greatly enhance student life, but a commitment to a student-centered institution requires constant assessment of students’ needs and the plans to address those needs.

The administration should seriously reconsider its decision to restore MAP grant funds for only one year.