MAP cuts hurt students’ futures

By Lauren Kelly

Illinois lawmakers approved state budget cuts amounting to $2.1 billion to erase a large deficit in funding on July 15, including substantial reductions for college grants, specifically the Monetary Award Program grant.  The budget cut was passed to avoid an additional increase on income taxes-an increase that could have prevented MAP grant funding cuts.

Including MAP grant funds in the recent budget decrease was shortsighted and irresponsible. The effects of this downsize will likely be more far-reaching than they appear. By not investing in aid for higher education, more people will be entering the job market with only a high school diploma, therefore affecting future tax revenue for the state based on income. There is no question that Illinois is suffering from a budget crisis, but cutting funds from such an important cause was tactless.

According to Student Financial Services, Columbia is one of the top three private institutions affected by the budget trim, along with DePaul and Loyola Universities. Now, about 3,334 Columbia students will not receive aid for the spring 2010 semester, and some may not be able to return to school to continue their education and earn a college degree.

According to the Illinois Student Assistance Commission, MAP grants were awarded to 145,500 students who are Illinois residents for the 2007-2008 school year, totaling more than $380 million worth of aid.

This school year, students who applied by the deadline were told that they would be awarded grants for the 2009-2010 academic year, but due to the budget cut, the awards for the spring semester have been eliminated.

Now, many students are left to locate other ways to pay for the second semester on short notice when they thought financial aid had already been secured. Some options available to students include taking out private loans,  applying for scholarships or working out a monthly payment plan with Student Financial Services.

Columbia notified students via e-mail almost immediately after the state budget was finalized, and the SFS office has been in communication with students, keeping them up to date with e-mails and newsletters. Student Financial Services has also been providing resources for students, as well, such as an online budget calculator to address their individual situations.

It is possible that more money will be returned from the state for use during the spring semester; this is expected to be announced by Nov.  1.  Student Financial Services is hopeful that the state will respond to students’ needs in the spring and that next year’s grants will be fully funded.

The Student Government Association plans to address the issue of MAP grant reduction in their upcoming meetings this semester, which will begin Sept. 15. The SGA will be in communication with local colleges to look for ways students can take action, possibly through rallies, letter-writing campaigns and lobbying.

All Columbia students, whether they were affected by the cut or not,  need to be in communication with SFS, administrators and the SGA to organize and take action to reinstate funding for MAP grants to keep college campuses alive and thriving.