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Lt. Gov. Simon visits UIS on College Affordability Tour

Lt. Gov. Simon visits UIS on College Affordability Tour

Lieutenant Governor Sheila Simon visited the UIS campus as part of her college affordability tour. After meeting with a small group of students involved in work-study programs, many of whom receive additional grants or scholarships and have off-campus jobs, she held a press conference to share what she has learned from meeting with students and her plans for keeping college affordable.

MAP, or the Monetary Award Program, provides tuition grants to students based on need. “We’re lucky to be in the State of Illinois because not every state has a system like MAP grants, but unfortunately the map grant money doesn’t go as far as it used to,” Simon said. Competition for the grants has risen as a result of the recession and tuition increases.

To deal with increased demand, MAP administrators have instituted earlier and more stringent deadlines for applicants. Simon said, “The earlier and earlier deadline inserts an artificial qualification for MAP grants that I don’t think is necessarily related to need and I don’t think targets our aid any better than it was before.”

Simon did not imply that state government is considering adding funds to the program, saying, “We have to look at future budget fights.” Instead, she believes the process of awarding MAP grants can be made more efficient and targeted. “I think we can do a better job of saying who gets the MAP grant and targeting that more closely to need.” She is part of the MAP Eligibility Task Force, which according to the website “is to deliberate options of new rules for the Monetary Award Program with the goal of improving the outcome for students who receive the grants.” The task force’s findings will be delivered to the General Assembly at the beginning of next year.

Nekira Cooper, a sophomore in criminal justice, receives various aid to pay for college, including a MAP grant, but also works at the Office of Financial Assistance on campus and at Walgreen’s part-time. “Having 18 credit hours and working 40 hours a week is very, very complicated,” she said. Simon praised the commitment of students such as Cooper, many of whom are first-time, first-generation students. Simon acknowledged, though, “I don’t know how all of them are sleeping.”

In addition to revisions to MAP, Simon is proposing a college choice report that will clearly compare college costs across the state, and she supports passage of the American opportunity tax credit, which makes tuition tax deductible. All of these initiatives are aimed, “To make sure that we are still a land of opportunity where you can make of yourself what you can based on your talent and not have your lack of financial abilities get in your way,” she said.

Simon tied college education not only to personal success, but to improving the economic condition of Illinois as a whole. “When we look at the future of what we want to look like as a state, particularly employment in our state, we know that there’s going to be an increasing need for people with college credentials in the workplace,” she said. An important aspect of this is ensuring that people do not have an “old-fashioned image of college.” Simon argued for the importance of community colleges, two-year and certificate programs, online learning, and traditional four-year universities in training a diverse workforce that can bring various skills and talents.

As far as cost-cutting measures undertaken by colleges themselves, Simon said, “Public institutions in Illinois are going out of their way to make sure they’re redirecting funds towards additional scholarships, grants, [and] loan opportunities. It’s not a question of trimming away waste.” She also warned that certain measures, such as hiring part-time faculty to save money, can adversely impact the quality of the education.

UIS was Simon’s sixth stop on her tour. “In every case, it is the students who are the most inspiring. It’s the students who are sacrificing so much of themselves because they see that investment in higher education in their future. That has been very energizing for me, and I hope to share that around the state.”

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