Illinois budget deadlock costing college students

John O'Connor
Associated Press

Springfield, Ill. — Jacqueline Suriano has resorted to crowdfunding her college education thanks to the prolonged budget stalemate in the Illinois capital.

The 26-year-old psychology major wasted no time in establishing “Jacqueline’s Tuition” on after the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago informed her last week that she’d have to cover the $2,300 spring subsidy she was supposed to receive from the state’s Monetary Award Program. Worse still, the school said she and hundreds of students like her may have to repay the amount they received in the fall.

“I pay $60,000 a year in tuition and expenses to go to school — $60,000,” Suriano said. “And then they’re telling me I can’t go to school next semester because of $2,300 that the government already promised me? Like, what?”

Illinois colleges and universities haven’t received funding because of the deadlock over a budget that should have taken effect July 1.

Most fronted income-based MAP money for the fall semester, figuring there would be a fiscal agreement by now, when state MAP reimbursement checks typically arrive on campus. But while larger universities say they can afford to float their students the subsidy next semester, IIT and some other schools say they don’t have the money.

In last week’s email to Suriano and other students who receive MAP subsidies, Mike Gosz, IIT’s vice president for admission and financial aid, encouraged them to register and discuss their financial options with school advisers. He said the school would decide next month whether it would ask them to repay the fall funds.

“That one is something I’m having a hard time stomaching,” Gosz told The Associated Press. “We’re following this situation very closely. We’re taking action; we have a voice in Springfield. We’re trying to tell them (students) to hang in there with us, but at the same time don’t want to crush them immediately.”

Bigger schools have been adjusting cash flow for years because of the state’s proclivity toward late payments, so they have built in more room to maneuver during the debacle.

But smaller schools don’t have that cushion and several, like IIT, have said they won’t be able to continue fronting the MAP funding for the spring.

Two-year schools are particularly burdened. Matt Berry, spokesman for the Illinois Community College Board, said a majority are not able to front MAP money next semester. That includes Parkland Community College in Champaign.

“We are probably going to take a hit with enrollment because of that,” said Parkland marketing director Patty Lehn. “It’s a terrible situation.”

Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, locked in the dispute over dollars with Democrats who control the Legislature, vetoed legislation in June that would have provided $397 million in MAP funding — a 6 percent increase from the governor’s proposed level.

Rauner continues to campaign for fundamental pro-business and anti-union changes to state law before he deals with Democrats on the budget; Democrats demand action now because federally required spending is driving up the state’s deficit.

Pat McGuire, a Joliet Democrat who chairs the state Senate’s higher education committee, said the Illinois Student Assistance Commission is compiling data on how much schools have already covered this year as he pursues alternatives.

“What I’m hearing from schools is, ‘Just give us some money. If the entire MAP authorization of $373 million is impracticable at this time, give us something,’ ” McGuire said.

Rauner’s spokeswoman, Catherine Kelly, said the governor supports MAP and urged McGuire to persuade fellow Democrats to deal with the governor on a yearlong plan.