CHAMPAIGN — Current and future college students who plan to apply for state financial aid for 2014-15 should do so soon.
Ideally by midnight tonight.
The state agency that oversees the Monetary Award Program, Illinois' need-based financial aid grant program, recently issued a warning that it plans to suspend awards for students who file their FAFSAs, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid, on Friday or later.
The FAFSA is the form students fill out (atfafsa.gov) to qualify for both state and federal financial aid, including grants, loans and work-study programs. Students don't have to file a separate form for MAP grants, just the FAFSA. And students who file after midnight tonight will still be eligible for other financial aid programs like Pell grants, student loans and federal work-study, according to the Illinois Student Assistance Commission, which oversees the state financial aid program.
Since last fall, the commission, along with high school counselors and college financial aid officers have been encouraging students to fill out their FAFSAs early because of rising demand and limited resources.
About a decade ago, all Illinois students who qualified for the program (essentially students from poor families) were able to receive MAP grants to help cover tuition. But now about half of those who apply and qualify will receive assistance through the program. The average grant is $2,500 a year.
Last year, the commission suspended awarding the grants on March 1, but was able to later award them to some students on the wait list who had filed through March 16.
This is the earliest the state has had to suspend awards and start a wait list, according to Katharine Gricevich, director of government relations for the student assistance commission.
"Word is getting out," she said. "More schools are doing more to support students as they are filing (FAFSAs). Those are good things, but unfortunately, it means we run out of funds sooner."
"We've been prepared for this," said Tim Wendt, director of financial aid and veterans services at Parkland College in Champaign. "Everyone has been telling people since last November, 'Money's tight. Apply as early as possible.'"
Parkland, for example, has tacked up posters in classrooms, emailed students, tweeted reminders and taken other steps to tell students to apply for financial aid sooner rather than later.
Wendt said he also wanted to remind students and parents that they don't need to have their taxes completed to fill out the FAFSA; you can estimate income and other tax information.
If students miss the midnight deadline tonight, "it's still to their benefit to file soon," Gricevich said.
"People should not feel there's no hope if they do not get it (submitted by midnight)." Students who file after will still be available for other financial aid programs like Pell grants, student loans and federal work-study, she said.
Also, even if it's not turned in by midnight, still work on getting it in soon, she said.
Students who submit after the date will be put on a wait list for the MAP grants, "and if fewer people show up to claim their grants, or if some take fewer hours or if a miracle happens and the state increases funding for the program," the state agency would be able to award grants to those on the waiting list.
More information is available at the commission's website, isac.org or the federal student aid site, atfafsa.gov.
The Illinois Monetary Award Program is a need-based financial aid program run by the state. Students apply annually to receive grants to help them pay their college tuition.
— Amount the Illinois General Assembly appropriated for the program for the current year: $373 million.
— Approximate number of Illinois students expected to apply for MAP grants: 280,000.
— Approximate number of Illinois students expected to receive MAP grants: 140,000.
— Average MAP grant: $2,500.
Source: Illinois Student Assistance Commission
CHRISTINE DES GARENNES