Last week, students from across the state traveled to Springfield to hear Gov. Bruce Rauner’s annual Budget Address, and unfortunately many students have come to expect that their governor won’t be making higher education…
Last week, students from across the state traveled to Springfield to hear Gov. Bruce Rauner’s annual Budget Address, and unfortunately many students have come to expect that their governor won’t be making higher education in the state a priority. Sadly, that expectation was fulfilled as Rauner continues to hold the state budget hostage, leaving Illinois’ higher education system unfunded since July 2015. In response to the governor’s budget address, over 200 students gathered for a rally at the Capitol, to share their stories about the devastating effects the budget crisis has had thus far and to urge the governor to pass a budget for higher education immediately.
Operating without a state budget has imposed serious challenges on young adults trying to earn degrees. We know that in today’s workforce, higher education is more important than ever. It is estimated that by 2020, 65 percent of all jobs will require some kind of post-secondary degree. Yet in Illinois, students are being held back. Public colleges and universities have been operating on financial reserves in order to serve students, and many are bracing themselves for layoffs and program cuts. Several universities are expecting to run out of reserve funds altogether by the end of the semester.
Additionally, without a budget, the state currently cannot pay out MAP grants, the state’s need-based financial aid program. Even though many institutions covered students’ MAP grants for the spring semester, students may be expected to pay back these funds if a higher education budget is not passed before the end of the semester.
Below, several students who attended last week’s rally share why higher education matters to them, the budget crisis’ impact on their education thus far and some of their worries for the future of their education.
Patricia Rodriquez is a sophomore at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign studying political science and economics.
I come from a working class family that could not afford to take on the costs of sending me to college. In high school, I worked 30 hours a week at a local retail store just to afford a dream of attending college, but I knew even that wouldn’t be enough to cover the costs of college. For me, receiving a MAP grant was the key to my college education and to a middle class life.
Now that the MAP program is unfunded, I am am worried that my dream of graduating from college might not become a reality. My parents are unable to co-sign any loans I might have to take out, which means that if MAP grants aren’t funded next semester, I’ll have to drop out.
Growing up in a low-income, single-parent household, it was always assumed I’d never be able to get to college. I was told I’d never make it, and I thought I’d never be able to find the money. But I was determined, I worked hard in high school and I managed to get into a great university.
Because of the state’s budget crisis, everything I’ve worked so hard for is on the brink of being taken away. I am lucky that my school was able to cover my MAP grant when the state failed to do so, but I am scared every day of what will happen if my school can’t pay my MAP grant next semester. If the budget crisis continues, thousands of students like me across the state, who work hard but need a little financial assistance, won’t be able to receive our degrees.
Not everyone knows this, but before I was a student at Governors State, I was a college dropout. After deciding not to finish my degree, I found a job that paid minimum wage. I worked there day in and day out for a couple of years. It seemed like no matter how much I worked, I could not make enough money to support myself. Realizing that I would never grow or develop in a dead-end job, I started looking into going back to school. With generous financial aid and lots of hard work, I’ve now been back at school for about a year.
The budget crisis will prevent students like me from continuing our education. The promise of financial aid was the only reason I was able to get back to school. If I were reapplying now, in the middle of this budget crisis, I’m not sure I’d be able to make that happen. As president of the student senate, I now often hear students worrying about how they’ll complete their education. I don’t want anyone to have to head down the path I was headed, working minimum wage without a degree, but without that aid, it’s hard to feel like that diploma will be worth it.
“I always understood undergraduate research to be this land of opportunity, where you’re gaining experience outside the classroom while literally creating knowledge in a field you’re really passionate about. That’s what every admissions officer and guidance counselor promises when you’re starting out at a research university like Illinois.
But, to whatever extent that used to be true, as funding has dried up so have the opportunities to do paid research. That restricts that land of opportunity to those who can afford to work for free, while I and thousands of other lower and middle income students are forced to choose between losing that building block for our careers or suffering financially.
It’s time for the state to invest in my future so that my career isn’t stunted because of my economic background – it would make it a lot easier to succeed financially in the long-term, and return that investment to my home state.
“I enrolled at Eastern Illinois University when my family moved to the Charleston area last year. I knew I would study political science and make new friends, but I didn’t expect the university to build and shape me into a community leader. I became president of the EIU College Democrats and engaged in passionate political debates on campus, which has allowed me to become a leader and spurred my interest in political advocacy.
For first generation students like me, attending a school like Eastern is challenging, but with the support of great advisers, faculty, and staff, I have been able to work towards graduating with my bachelor’s degree. But now that there is no state funding for higher education, many of us are at risk of not finishing the education we’ve worked so hard for.
Instead of worrying about our classes, students are worried about our schools staying open, and we are worried about our financial aid being lost. Eastern was forced to lay off roughly 200 employees to make up for the lack of funds, and there will be more cuts just to finish the current semester.
Every person is important in the university community, but these staff members, who have dedicated themselves to educating and producing great leaders are no longer there to help students like me succeed in school. The programs they administered, and the student support they provided, are on hold until these schools receive their promised funding. We need a state higher education budget so that universities can operate at full capacity to serve the students who are growing and learning there.”
My parents each completed three and a half years of college before they both had to drop out because they could no longer afford it, as neither received any familial support. For the first three years of my life, my mom worked 80 hours a week while my dad worked full-time taking care of my two older siblings and myself. Two more kids and about a decade and a half later, my parents are proud to see my siblings and me in college.
Even though my parents worked this hard to get me enrolled in college, we couldn’t have done it without financial aid. And now that I might have to pay back my school for my MAP grants, graduating seems like more of a challenge. The lack of MAP grant funding will inhibit first generation college students like myself from becoming first generation college graduates. I want my children to be second generation college graduates. Fund MAP grants.
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