Op-ed: Financial aid crisis hits low-income students

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Amanda Collins

Amanda Collins

One hundred thirty thousand college students in Illinois are on the brink of a crisis that no one is talking about.

These are the low-income students who were counting on the state’s Monetary Award Program (MAP) to afford tuition payments. But with the state budget process at a grinding halt, they face the threat of having to “pay back” thousands of dollars in financial aid that they already were promised.

If money for MAP isn’t appropriated in the next couple of weeks, those students will face a terrible decision.

MAP gives assistance to students who demonstrate financial need, and I know firsthand the difference that it can make. As a low-income student, I often struggled to balance my course load while working several part-time jobs. I often joked about adding the title “lab rat” to my resume, because whenever I wasn’t in class – often working as a cashier or resident assistant — I would participate in research opportunities at my institution to earn extra money.

But without MAP, I couldn’t have afforded to be even a struggling college  student. It was with this financial support that I was able to become a college success story: this winter I walked across a stage, accepted my diploma and became a proud college graduate.

Of the 278,000 students who meet the need-based requirements to qualify for MAP coverage, less than half are offered aid. And now, because Gov. Rauner vetoed one spending bill with appropriations for higher education and because he and lawmakers have been unable to compromise, MAP grants that have already been promised are completely unfunded.

This means even those students who qualified for assistance and were promised a grant may not receive it. For some, being told they won’t get MAP will mean dropping out; they wouldn’t be getting this assistance if they could afford to pay for college through other means.

I feel lucky I graduated with my bachelor’s degree before the current Illinois budget crisis. But being afforded the opportunity to earn a college education should not come down to luck.

Everyone should have the chance to work hard, make sacrifices and create their own college success story. The governor and lawmakers owe it to college students to pass a budget.

Amanda Collins is a program coordinator at Women Employed, a 42-year-old advocacy organization that  mobilizes people and organizations to expand educational and employment opportunities for America’s working women.