University to notify students of MAP Plus grant eligibility

By Kathleen Foody

By Kathleen Foody

Staff Writer

University students eligible for MAP Plus grants, a program proposed by Gov. Blagojevich as a part of his re-election campaign, may be notified of their eligibility as soon as this weekend, said Dan Mann, director of the University’s Office of Financial Aid.

The program was scheduled to begin in fall 2006, but funding could not be secured until last Friday when the Illinois Student Assistance Commission unanimously approved the sale of $648 million in student loans, said Claude Walker, director of state relations for the Commission.

“We’ve been waiting for this partial sale for a long time,” Mann said. “Now we’re doing exactly what we said we would once funding was available.”

The MAP Plus program makes grants up to $250 per semester available to eligible students. Necessary funding for the plan has been estimated at $34.4 million to assist 70,000 middle-income students.

Sallie Mae and Nelnet Inc., two popular providers of student loans and administrators of college savings plans, were the highest bidders out of 15 total bidders.

Walker said the original plan was to only award the bid to one company, but as the process continued, jointly awarding the bid to Sallie Mae and Nelnet Inc. seemed the logical choice.

“Both firms have a familiarity with student loan portfolios and that made them attractive bidders,” he said. “Two firms made more sense for everybody.”

Mann said to be eligible to receive a grant, students must have sophomore, junior or senior standing, a yearly family income under $200,000 and must reside in Illinois. Students who are already receiving grants from the original MAP program are not eligible.

The office has already begun processing the grants, and Mann said he is hopeful they will have the loans dispersed into student financial aid accounts by this weekend.

“I think we’ll be there, but it is a brand new program so we’re trying to check everything out as we go along,” he said. “We want to be sure the right people get the right amounts.”

Walker said students who already have loans with the Commission will receive a letter within the next 15 days, but emphasized all borrower benefits, like the fixed interest rates currently in place, will be maintained under the agreements of the sale.

The sale of the portfolio came under scrutiny from the Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan earlier this year in October 2006.

At the time, there had been discussion that the entire portfolio would be sold, discontinuing the Commission’s secondary student loan market program called the Illinois Designated Account Purchase Program.

Madigan issued an opinion on Oct. 26, 2006 stating that the Commission could not sell the entire portfolio without General Assembly approval.

Walker said the Commission understood and valued Madigan’s opinion and that the partial sale completed last week is within the bounds of Madigan’s specifications.

Future sales of portions of the portfolio seem likely, but the Commission is recommitting itself to serving students who choose to remain in Illinois for college, Walker said.

“There are a lot of our loans going to students out of state and schools out of state,” he said. “We want to change that trend.”