by Joe King
Students and leaders at NIU cheered Thursday’s news that Illinois lawmakers had approved a plan to restore second semester MAP grant funding for 137,000 college students statewide
“I commend Gov. Pat Quinn, the leaders in the General Assembly and all of our lawmakers for recognizing that it is in the best interest of the state to find a way to restore funding for second semester MAP grants,” NIU President John G. Peters said. “For the students who rely upon those grants, this keeps the goal of a college education within their reach.”
The Illinois House and Senate voted to provide an additional $205 million for the state’s Monetary Award Program, which provides financial aid of up to nearly $5,000 a year to the neediest college students in the state for tuition and fees. Legislators did not identify any specific funding mechanism to pay for the program.
At NIU, more than 5,600 students – nearly one in three undergraduate students – rely upon MAP grant funding to help pay for their education. The average MAP recipient at NIU receives nearly $4,200 a year.
Nearly 60 NIU students made the trek to Springfield to participate in the rally and to lobby legislators from their home districts. Word that their efforts had helped win the day reached them during the trip back to campus.
“A big cheer went up on the bus,” said Robert Sorsby, 20, president of the NIU Student Association. “We were all relieved to hear that the state sees how important MAP grants are to students.”
While excited at the day’s developments, both Sorsby and Peters acknowledge that work remains to be done.
“Thursday’s vote was a great victory, but the entire higher education community needs to remain united and see this through to completion,” Peters said. “Yesterday’s action was a tribute to the unified efforts of the leadership at every public and private university, college and community college across the state. Working in concert with the leadership of the Illinois Board of Higher Education and the Illinois Student Assistance Commission, with the invaluable support and assistance of students and faculty, we were able to help the legislature understand the importance of our cause. We must all continue to work together to ensure that a source of funding is identified.”
Peters added that he is thrilled by the turnout of students from colleges and universities across the state. An estimated 3,000 students descended upon the state capitol to push for restoration of the funding.
“That’s what state legislators needed to see. That is who they needed to hear from – the students whose lives are affected by this decision,” Peters said. “I think it is fantastic that those students got to learn firsthand that their voices can help shape policy.”
NIU Student Trustee Matt Venaas, of Ottawa, agreed.
“The students I spoke to were excited to have an opportunity to participate in the process,” Venaas said. “It was very empowering for them.”