RISE Act may provide more students access to aid

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A new bill could offer more students access to state financial aid and scholarships for college.

Called the Retaining Illinois Students and Equity (RISE) Act, the legislation would make three categories of students eligible to receive state or public aid for higher education: undocumented students, transgender students who have not registered for Selective Service, and students who fall under a 75-credit-hour maximum for aid from the state.

The UIC community is among a coalition of groups fighting to pass the legislation, which already has been approved by the Illinois House of Representatives, with 66 votes in favor of the bill. A vote from the Senate, which is set to take place by May 30, is needed to sign the measure into law.

“Many people and students have been attempting to pass this act for about five years under different names,” said Amalia Pallares, associate chancellor and vice provost for diversity.

She explained that the RISE Act does not request funding for more state or institutional aid. Instead, it ensures that Illinois residents are eligible to receive existing state aid and that they can apply for institutional aid at all public institutions of higher education.

There are over 300 undocumented students at UIC.

“If the RISE Act passes, undocumented students would be able to apply for institutional aid in public universities and for MAP grants,” she said.

Another group of students who would be impacted are transgender students who have not signed up for Selective Service, Pallares said. The consequences of not registering for the draft, an action the U.S. government requires men to take, include loss of student aid. But registering for the service is often a privacy issue for transgender students.

“They may have transitioned and don’t want others to know what their assigned gender at birth was,” Pallares said.

“It creates a lot of anxiety,” said Jordan Turner, director of the Gender and Sexuality Center. “We don’t want people feeling like they’re unsafe, so we support this legislation if there’s a way to reduce that.”

Students who have capped their Monetary Award Program (MAP) funds would also be affected by the legislation. The grant, which is given to the neediest Illinois residents, requires MAP students to achieve junior status after completing 75 credit hours. If they don’t achieve junior status, their MAP aid doesn’t continue.

Students may not be able to fulfill this requirement for a variety of reasons.

“Many have additional courses that they need to be able to start or pursue their major. Many students are in community college, many other students of color who come from low-income communities are midway but have not yet achieved the status of juniors,” Pallares said.

Switching majors could also put any student at risk for meeting this 75-hour cap.

It’s time for change, said Tanya Cabrera, associate director of equity and inclusion.

“This bill, the RISE Act, is an investment in our students to make sure that they matriculate to a degree, and that they stay in Illinois,” Cabrera said.

Advocates from the UIC community can continue supporting this bill by reaching out to their representatives, sending postcards to lawmakers or supporting the Campaign for A Welcoming Illinois, which is led by the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights.

“Constituents have the power to make this bill happen,” Cabrera said.

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