There are a number of weighty issues that members of the Illinois legislature must grapple with as they solidify a budget this year, but none will likely impact the state's future as much as the Monetary Award Program (MAP), which provides grants to Illinois students who attend public and private state colleges and universities.
Across the state, Illinois has 150-plus community colleges, public and private universities and colleges that educate more than 800,000 students each year, producing $50 billion in economic impact and providing 175,000 jobs statewide, according to the Federation of Independent Illinois Colleges and Universities. And the administrators, faculties and families at these schools can all tell you that removing MAP funding from the state's budget will squeeze the most vulnerable out of the educational process, and that would be tragic and far-reaching.
Not only will that affect the state's future economy and vitality, it will seriously damage today's higher education system that is already strained at best.
But if the big picture is not enough to convince you, consider the magnitude of this funding challenge for liberal arts institutions like Judson University. Over 500 Judson students and their families will feel a significant financial strain if MAP funding is not approved. That's more than 500 students at our university alone, so imagine the financial trauma this will create across the state if our elected leadership does not respond to the needs of Illinois' families.
Illinois MAP funding has been an important catalyst to access a college education as well as helping to retain our college-educated population during a time when the state has cut funding to higher education institutions, and faced significant out-migration.
Our students work hard and dream big; their plans of being the next architects, lawyers, teachers, ministers and business owners of the world deserve the opportunity to thrive. And, we've promised them a high-quality education to help them get there.
Judson remains committed to our students' futures. As it stands, 99 percent of them receive some form of financial aid, including institutional scholarships and work study, and MAP funding has helped to bridge the gap for many among the most financially strapped in our population. It has the potential to make the difference between underemployment and opportunities afforded by obtaining a college degree.
To help students continue their journeys, Judson has covered the bill for now, upward of $1.1 million for students awaiting MAP grant for this past fall and current spring semesters. But with numerous financial obligations looming, we may not be able to extend such graces much longer.
Must our students, and all Illinois degree-seeking students, give up on their academic dreams? As an institution, must we now tell them that they will have to repay these monies, even though MAP funding is not supposed to require repayment, even after graduation?
We urge the Illinois Legislature to thoughtfully reconsider its stance, to think of the families and future employees and employers who will most certainly be adversely affected by this decision and to go to bat for the future of higher education.
A commitment to MAP funding is a commitment to the citizens of Illinois and ensures that our state -- and our workforce -- is prepared for the future.
Dr. Gene Crume is president of Judson University in Elgin.