Freshman Casey Brayndick loves Knox for a myriad of reasons, but when it came to choosing a college, the ultimate factor had to be financial aid. But now, Brayndick is one of 315 Knox students anxiously watching the budget debates of the state legislature as approximately $5,000 of her aid hangs in the balance.
This $5,000 should come from the Monetary Award Program (MAP), a grant provided by the state of Illinois to help eligible Illinois residents cover the cost of higher education. The state, however, can’t distribute these funds until the governor and general assembly agree on a budget.
According to Director of Community and Government Relations Karrie Heartlein, this leaves Knox students in a “financial limbo.”
For the 2015-16 year, the state government did not approve the budget until the last possible date, June 30. Heartlein said this delay was far too long.
“Last year, students didn’t know they were going to receive their MAP grants until the year was over and they had actually gone home,” she said.
Beginning April of 2016, just over two months before the budget deadline, Director Heartlein organized events to encourage students to communicate with representatives. Each MAP grant recipient and other students in that recipient’s district was encouraged to contact their representative through a letter. Heartlein also helped five students travel to the capitol in Springfield. There, she introduced representatives to the students who depended on MAP grants, and the students joined a demonstration in support of the MAP grants alongside students from all over the state.
Knox President Teresa Amott also traveled to Springfield to meet with senators and representatives, joined the Presidents of Carl Sandburg College and Monmouth to write an op-ed, and wrote a letter to each representative with a MAP grant recipient in their district. As much as Knox has proven it will fight for its students’ aid, Brayndick remains uneasy.
Last school year, Knox offered to supply students with the funds they would have received from the MAP grant if it fell through on the budget. Casey and her parents counted on Knox extending that offer to the current year, but that was never a guarantee.
When asked about the college continuing the offer, Knox Director of Financial Aid Ann Brill said, “We remain hopeful that our elected officials will work out their differences É It is far too early to determine how the college will respond should the state not honor its promise this year.”
Heartlein stated that most representatives support MAP funding, and that in all likelihood MAP will be on the budget once it is approved. But she stressed that legislators should consider students’ financial security, stating that, “Nothing is certain until the budget is approved…These students remain in a sort of financial limbo awaiting word on their MAP grants.”
Heartlein added that if the budget debates become another protracted struggle, she will again organize and support students as they advocate to their representatives. If needed, more news will come Spring Term.
“What’s really important … is that the general assembly and the governor not try to balance the state budget on the backs of students who are trying to better their lives through education. … We expect the state to honor its promise to students.”