Students brace for the worst as cuts to state grants loom

  • By Peter Sachs
  • Staff Writer
  • June 30, 2009 @ 7:00 AM

The news that state officials have drastically cut financial aid for the coming school year has some college students thinking about taking on extra jobs to pay their tuition bills, while others say they may have to drop out.

Last week, the Illinois Student Assistance Commission cut Monetary Award Program grants to about 137,000 students in the state by more than half.

The big cut means students will get about 85 percent of their promised aid for the fall term. They will receive no aid at all in the spring unless the state legislature passes a budget with greater funding for the grant program.

Damian Wolak, the undergraduate student body president at the University of Illinois at Chicago, says he’s been the first person to tell many of his peers about the looming cuts.

“They feel as if the MAP grant is like an entitlement, that they got their letters in the mail and they think everything is coming and everything is well,” Wolak says.

But in fact, the 6,200 students at UIC slated to get the state grants this coming year will collectively receive just $10.2 million under the current state budget. That compares with $24.5 million in state funds handed out to a similar number of UIC students last year. For individual UIC students, the average grant would drop from $4,000 to about $1,600 for the year.

The pattern is similar at many other Chicago-area schools.

“It’s not just like, oh, I can find these resources in another place,” says Columbia College photography major Ann Meyer.

Meyer is among a sizeable group of students getting MAP grants who get little or no support from their parents, relying on a combination of grants, scholarships and federal subsidized student loans to pay for college.

Even small amounts can affect a student’s aid package, says Michael Johns, also a Columbia student.

“For them, $2,500 may not seem like a lot of money, but to me, that’s the difference between having to work a job … versus being able to take a few extra courses,” he says.

Some students may have to take more drastic steps if the state grants aren’t restored.

“A lot of my close friends that are going to be seniors are having the change schools,” says Roosevelt University senior Dimitra Georgouses, citing at least one friend who is transferring to Northeastern Illinois University because it costs less than Roosevelt.

Wolak says he has talked to may students who, once they realize the state grants will be shrinking so much, say, “I’ve really got to reconsider how I’m going to put myself through school.

“They don’t really have a plan of action,” Wolak says.

Daily News Staff Writer Peter Sachs covers higher education. He can be reached at 773.362.5002, ext. 18, or peter [at] chitowndailynews [dot] org.