State financial aid for college on hold

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In this tough economy, families worried about paying college tuition got one more piece of bad news: The state announced that on Friday it will stop, at least temporarily, doling out money from its pot of financial aid.

Applications for state financial aid, called MAP (for Monetary Award Program), are up by 20 percent, and the number of eligible applicants is up by 27 percent, says Paul Palian, director of media affairs for the Illinois Student Assistance Commission.

In this tough economy, families worried about paying college tuition got one more piece of bad news: The state announced that on Friday it will stop, at least temporarily, doling out money from its pot of financial aid.

Applications for state financial aid, called MAP (for Monetary Award Program), are up by 20 percent, and the number of eligible applicants is up by 27 percent, says Paul Palian, director of media affairs for the Illinois Student Assistance Commission. The maximum MAP grant is nearly $5,000, but the average grant is about $2,600. MAP, like the federal Pell grant, is based on financial need.

Every year, the state suspends grants when it looks like it is in danger of running out of funds, but never before has the suspension happened as early as May 15, he says. Last year, the suspension took place in late July and that was a record.

“It is a precautionary measure so that we don’t run out of money or run over,” Palian says.

Palian attributes the increase in applications and eligibility to the recession and to aggressive outreach to high schools to get students to fill out the financial aid form. CPS high school staff have been especially diligent in making sure seniors fill out financial aid forms, with some counselors offering awards and posting lists of those who still need to complete the forms.

The MAP fund had $384 million in it this year. There is a ray of hope that as the year goes on the suspension might be lifted and more grants might be given out. Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn has $21 million more for it in his budget. Also, there might be some stimulus money for it, Palian says.

In addition, if students who were awarded grants don’t enroll in college, the money given them will be released to others. Last year, 100,000 students who qualified for the MAP grant didn’t get one, some because they failed to enroll in college, but others because funds weren’t available, Palian says.

Within a 17 days the legislature should finalize the budget and then the Illinois Student Assistance will know more.