MAP grants fall by the wayside in Rauner's Illinois

By Gabriel Costello

Last Friday, Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed a bill that would have appropriated $721 million towards Monetary Award Program grants for the 2015-2016 school year.

It was the latest event in a budget impasse that dates back to July 2015. Without the passage of a budget, state universities have received zero dollars in funding. The reality of the situation is that unless a budget is passed soon, Chicago State University may be forced to close. Other state universities such as Eastern Illinois University and Western Illinois University will lay off non-instructional staff and furlough other employees if the impasse continues.

Without MAP grants, roughly 130,000 low-income students will be faced with difficult decisions when it comes to staying in school or not. These students are often first generation college students, so the absence of the MAP funds could very well be the conclusion of their lifelong dreams.

Not only are the students being deprived of funds that they were promised, but they are being forced to put their educations, and by extension their lives, on hold.

In the absence of MAP grants, students will be unable to complete their degrees, missing out an estimated $830,000 in wages over their lifetimes, according to the Federal Reserve Board of San Francisco. This is without even considering the fact that these students might now have to pay off loan balances accrued in school without earning a degree.

    Sign up for our newsletter!

    The failure to fund the MAP grants is part of a much larger trend: the removal of state funding from higher education in Illinois. This trend began because public universities are no longer seen as economic engines or a patrons of societal good. Instead, they are viewed as burdens on the state.

    For a man who ran for office on the premise of increasing state employment, the governor seems determined to halt the education of many low-income students. Funding state universities must not fall under the auspices of getting Illinois “back to work.”

    The governor is insistent that allowing the MAP funds to be released would only add to the budget deficit the state already faces. At first glance, this statement makes sense. The state cannot keep spending when it is already in the red; however, upon closer examination, this statement quickly falls apart.

    While the budget impasse has brought higher education spending to the forefront, state spending cuts in relation to higher education are anything but new. In 1980, the University of Illinois system’s share of total state tax appropriations was 4.4 percent. By 2015, this number had dropped to 1.9 percent. To put this into perspective, this represents a 58 percent decline in tax dollars being allocated to fund the University system. (page 21)

    The governor’s insistence to run the state like a business has had a predictable outcome. The most underserved in society, in this case low-income students, are left in the cold. It also opens the floor to a larger question, whether the state government and by extension the universities funded by the state government should be treated like businesses. The short answer is no.

    A business only has one goal: to turn a profit. A state, on the other hand, has to fulfill a myriad of goals. First and foremost should be promoting the public good. Subsidizing low-income students will never be profitable, but it certainly falls under the heading of serving the public good. Defunding public education is in essence against the public at large.

    In the absence of MAP funds, students who decide to stay in school will be forced to turn to private lenders. The public universities find themselves in a similar situation; a decrease in public funding means funds have to be found elsewhere.

    Once public education has been crippled, it becomes much easier to make the case for privatization. Then, a profit really stands to be made off the backs of the public.

    In all likelihood, nothing about this reality is going to change anytime soon. But, the more vocal students are and the more protests that take place around the state, the harder the issue is to ignore.

    The governor must be reminded that first and foremost, he is a public servant. Without a state budget, low-income students who attend Illinois’ public universities are being deprived of their promised education.

    Gabriel is a sophomore in LAS.

    [email protected]