Budget impasse threatens MAP financial aid for next semester

piggy bank broken open

UIC covered state-awarded financial aid for fall semester, a decision on spring semester has not been made.

 

Catherine Cortez has one semester left at UIC, but she isn’t sure how she’ll pay for it.

Cortez relies on a grant from the Illinois Student Assistance Commission’s Monetary Award Program to help pay for college costs, but funding for the state grant program is uncertain as the budget impasse continues.

“If I didn’t have the MAP grant, I wouldn’t be able to buy books or anything I need for school,” said Cortez, a senior in biology and psychology. “It gives me an opportunity to go school and takes a great load off of students’ shoulders. Otherwise you have students working two or three jobs to go to school.”

Cortez is among 8,000 UIC students who receive grants through the MAP program. UIC paid the students’ MAP grants for fall semester and billed the $16.7 million total to the state, hoping the amount will be reimbursed once a budget is approved, said Shirley Rodriguez-Vega, interim director of financial aid.

Campus administrators haven’t determined whether the university will be able to pay for spring semester MAP grants, she said.

Campus administrators sent an email to MAP grant recipients last month, encouraging students to continue their studies at UIC.

“You should enroll for spring semester classes as our legislative leaders work to resolve the state budget issues,” wrote Eric Gislason, interim vice chancellor for academic affairs and provost, and Barbara Henley, vice chancellor for student affairs. “We will continue to advocate for adequate higher education funding, including MAP funding.

“While no guarantee can be made, we anticipate MAP grant-eligible students will eventually receive grant funding from the state. We hope this will be the case, and we will continue to monitor the situation closely,” the message said.

Reshunda Bates receives about $2,000 per semester in MAP funding. Her brother, Emmanuel, is a freshman at UIC who also relies on the grant.

“It’s a big deal,” said Bates, a junior in criminal justice. “If I don’t have the grant, my option would be to ask my parents to take out a loan, which I don’t want to do, and they would have to take out a loan for my brother, too.”

Bates, who works in the financial aid office, said she would likely look for a second job if funding isn’t approved. “I really don’t know what the issue with the budget is, but we’re suffering because they can’t figure it out,” she said.

More than 500 students wrote letters to state legislators advocating for MAP funding during a two-day letter-writing campaign last month, organized by Undergraduate Student Government and the Alumni Association.

“Many UIC students received MAP grants to support their college education,” said Sun Choi, a junior in chemistry and director of the USG University Relations Committee.

“Cutting financial resources can give them and their family financial stress. In extreme cases, some students won’t be able to continue their college education because getting higher education costs an extensive amount of money without financial supports from the state.”

Choi also receives MAP funding to help pay for college.

“If the MAP grant is not approved for the following semesters, I may not be able to focus on academic aspects, as well as my undergraduate research experience, because now I have to start being worried about the financial aspect of college,” she said.

Incoming freshmen and transfer students are being encouraged to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) as soon as possible after Jan. 1 to be considered for a MAP grant for next academic year, even though funding is uncertain, said Rodriguez-Vega.

“Students should just keep applying, and applying ASAP, because the MAP deadline moves up a bit every year — this past year it was in February,” she said.

 

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christyb@uic.edu