Assistance for students gets smaller

Assistance for students gets smaller

CHAMPAIGN – Parkland College's burgeoning student population will get a little less help from the state this year.

But Jack Lyons, Parkland's director of financial aid, said the college is using creative funding alternatives to help cover the shortfall in Illinois Monetary Award Program grants to help cover students' expenses.

Lyons said Parkland's tuition hasn't increased greatly so students there will be able to operate with less money better than those at schools such as the University of Illinois, where tuition is going up 5 percent.

"Springfield has said it's going to hold the MAP grant stable, and we've been taking their word for that and going ahead with what we're doing, " Lyons said.

He said the total pool this year amounts to $348 million, $12 million more than last year, - when that pool was cut by $38 million from the previous year. But the money will be spread over more students, and each student will get less money than last year.

"Last year, there was a 5 percent reduction to all students in the state," Lyons said. "With the volume of applications we have, the Illinois Student Assistance Commission estimates funding will expire at the end of July for next year, and it's decided to reduce awards by 10 percent across the board to free money to extend the deadline date through the first week of August."

That's important because a lot of community college students apply for financial aid late, in July and August, and the early deadline could make it difficult financially for them.

"We work with a lot of nontraditional students who make later decisions," Lyons said.

He said the 10 percent reduction was necessary to spread the same amount of money across a larger pool of applicants. The $12 million added was earmarked for a special use, to restore previously cut funding to students in their fifth year of college.

Meanwhile, Lyons said, his office is working with Parkland students to help them find financial help from other sources. Many students tap into several different federal and state funds to pay their bills, he said.

"Fortunately, because our tuition rate's not up dramatically, our students will lose about $160 to $200 a year, and we'll use Pell grants, student loans and other funds to cover that," Lyons said.

He said the college is also holding back some federal money to help late applicants who miss the MAP deadline.

At Danville Area Community College, Sarah Wright is working at her campus job a few more hours than she had planned to make up for the MAP program reduction.

"I think it will affect me more when I transfer," Wright said of the reduction. She plans to finish her associate degree at DACC and go to Illinois State University next spring to major in speech pathology.

DACC Financial Aid Director Janet Ingargiola said the reductions don't take into account any tuition increases at two- or four-year institutions.

Monetary Award Program grants are gift aid, meaning they are not repaid by the student, and the money can be used toward tuition and mandatory fees only. Students receive the grants based on financial need.

Pell grants are federal, need-based grants that also are gift aid. Unlike Monetary Award Program grants, Pell grants can be applied toward expenses besides tuition and fees.

Ingargiola encourages students who want to apply for Monetary Award Program funding for the upcoming fall and spring semesters to do so immediately. State officials recently announced the deadline for applications would remain Aug. 15 for students who applied for aid last year and Sept. 30 for new applicants.

Ingargiola is still concerned that the Sept. 30 date might be moved up, so she encourages all students to apply as soon as possible by completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid form.

Students are encouraged, Ingargiola said, to complete the form on the U.S. Department of Education Web site at www.fafsa.ed.gov.

You can reach Anne Cook at (217) 351-5217 or via e-mail at acook@news-gazette.com. You can reach Tracy Moss at (217) 443-8946 or via e-mail at tmoss@news-gazette.com.

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