'We know that students may simply be dropping out'

'We know that students may simply be dropping out'

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SPRINGFIELD — Illinois' relentless budget crisis, including the end of state-funded financial aid to college students, appears to be having an effect on prospective students, the head of the state student assistance commission said Thursday.

The number of people seeking student aid in the state is down by at least 10 percent, said Eric Zarnikow, executive director of the Illinois Student Assistance Commission.

"We know that students may simply be dropping out. We know that for FY17 (which begins July 1), our FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) filing volume is down pretty significantly," Zarnikow told the House Higher Education Committee. "And for MAP-eligible students it's down about 14 percent. That's really a very significant reduction."

MAP is the state-funded student assistance program that has been without a budget this year because of the 9-month-long standoff between Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and the Democratic Legislature.

"What we don't know yet," Zarnikow said, "is are those students deciding not to go to school at all, or are they choosing to go out of state?"

He said he was concerned about "long-term damage" to Illinois students and the state's higher education system.

"I try to be an optimistic person and see the glass half-full," Zarnikow said. "But when you think about it from the perspective of a person in a low-income environment — that being the path to college being at the intersection of money and knowledge, both the knowledge about how you go to college and how do you get financial aid — in many cases if you're the first in your family to go to college, there's a lot of uncertainty. There are a lot of barriers to go through."

The uncertainty may lead to prospective students giving up on going to college, he said.

"And I also worry about what does that mean for their siblings, their neighbors? One of the things we talk about is generation interventions. If you get the parent to go, the child is much more likely to go. But are we creating a situation where it's going to be hard to get people to come back and trust the state?"

Higher education has been especially hard hit by the budget dispute, including the loss of MAP funding for about 130,000 colleges and university students. Many schools covered the cost themselves in the fall semester, but were unable to do so in the current spring semester.

Some schools "may be asking students to repay the MAP money if the state ultimately does not appropriate the funds to pay those claims," Zarnikow said.

"And for the vast majority of MAP recipients, that's just money they don't have," he said. "They're going to be asked to repay money they don't have in the first place. This creates a huge level of uncertainty. They have greater uncertainty in what's already an uncertain life."

Further, institutions that have been operating on cash reserves are running short and some, like Chicago State University, are in danger of closing.

The House and Senate this week passed legislation that would budget funds for higher education for the current fiscal year, but provided no money to cover the cost. Rauner has said he will veto the measure.

And the head of the Illinois Community College Board said that many colleges "have gone into survival mode" because of the lack of state funds this year.

"Many of our programs have been cut," said Karen Hunter Anderson, executive director of the community college system. "The first programs to go are typically those serving the hardest to serve populations. All of our adult ed programs have had to redesign their programs in some way to accommodate the budget cuts. It consumes basically everything we do."

And she warned that although no college has given notice of shutting down its summer term programs, "what we will see is a huge reduction in those programs."

She said there hasn't been discussion yet of any community colleges closing. Such a move would require a voter referendum.

"What we have encouraged from our office is that they try to keep programs minimally operational if they possibly can so they don't impact their access to federal funds," Anderson said. "In some areas you're going to see a shell of what you saw before."

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catsrule wrote on April 15, 2016 at 7:04 am

Mr. Rauner continues to hold the budget process hostage to an agenda for which he has absolutely no mandate, namely the so called anti worker "turnaround agenda". Community based social service providers, students in need of financial aide, colleges and universities and programs serving the neediest citizens are being in some cases irreparably and permanently harmed. EIU has laid off more than 200 workers, WIU announced 110 layoffs yesterday. Catholic Charities is owed over 26 million dollars for work performed under contact to the State, Lutheran Social Services of IL laid off nearly 700 service providers. Former Governors Edgar and Thompson have urged that the budget be addressed separate of non budgetary agenda. Voters need to hold those who enable the hostage taking agenda accountable at the ballot box in November. GOP members of the IL House need to show the courage of GOP House member Sam McCann and support their constituents. http://raunerruinslives.com/