CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- A state program that guarantees college tuition for Illinois veterans has provided less and less money in recent years, which leaves public universities and community colleges to pick up the tab. The bill is expected to top $32 million this year.
The Illinois Veteran Grant started in 1967. It's considered an entitlement, a status that means that if the General Assembly doesn't appropriate money for it, the schools have to cover the cost.
According to The News-Gazette, the legislature in 2013 and 2014 provided no money. The state has wrestled with budget deficits the past few years.
Major universities bare much of the burden. The University of Illinois, for instance, last year had a $3.1 million bill to cover its Veteran Grant obligations.
But schools with smaller budgets are hit hard, too.
"Schools want to serve the vets. We're glad the program is there and we're glad they choose to come to our school," said Janet Ingargiola, director of financial aid with Danville Area Community College. But "it's a squeeze for community colleges who are already tight on money."
The school awarded $91,034 under the Veteran Grant program in 2011-12, $94,100 in 2012-13, and $128,000 for the current school year, Ingargiola said.
Parkland College in Champaign has about 350 veterans who are students, and many use the Veteran Grant, said Tim Wendt, director of financial aid and veterans services. He says the school will spend $600,000 this year on Veterans Grant funding.
"We could do so much more if we were getting the (state appropriation). Half a million dollars is huge for us," Wendt said.
At the University of Illinois, there's no expectation that the state will be able to help cover the costs any time soon, said Dan Mann, director of financial aid.
"I do not foresee us getting paid in the upcoming future unless something changes with the budget situation," he said.