New slate of higher-ed bills include MAP, merit grant reforms

New slate of higher-ed bills include MAP, merit grant reforms

SPRINGFIELD — Illinois lawmakers unveiled a package of six bills Tuesday aimed at reversing the flow of students to out-of-state colleges and universities.

Among the proposals, the legislation would expand Illinois Monetary Award Program grants to potentially cover four years, and create a merit-based grant aimed at the middle class that would be matched by Illinois universities.

State Sen. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, is optimistic the bills will pass before the scheduled end of the legislative session Thursday.

"This is all stuff we think is reasonably getting done in the next 48 hours," Rose said Tuesday afternoon.

A bipartisan group of legislators has been working on higher-education reforms since November, Rose said, and finished drafting these bills over the holiday weekend.

Rose introduced legislation in the fall to restructure higher education in Illinois "to start a conversation."

"It wasn't perfect and met with some pushback. The whole point was to drive a conversation," he said. "We had almost 20 meetings since November. We pulled in everybody."

Rose said Illinois is losing low-income students to other states that offer four-year grants similar to Illinois's MAP grants.

"Those kids don't have the certainty that other out-of-state schools are giving them," Rose said.

House Bill 5020 wouldn't technically make the grant a four-year grant, but it does create a priority deadline for students renewing their MAP grant that would guarantee renewal if the student still met the eligibility requirements.

It "would give MAP grantees a priority the following year, in essence taking MAP from a one-year program to a four-year program," Rose said at a press conference Tuesday in Springfield while wearing an orange tie and navy blue jacket. "This would also be good for community colleges. If you start at community college and matriculate up to a four-year, that will follow you as you go."

When the higher-education working group met with university officials, Rose said, admissions directors asked for this.

"We kicked all the university presidents out of the room and asked the admissions directors to come in," he said. "One of the things we heard time and time again from every single four-year public institution was that these out-of-state schools come in and offer four-year awards, and they're stuck backpedaling."

With Senate Bill 2927, which would create a grant aimed toward middle-class students, the state would offer $25 million in matching funds to schools that participate in the merit-based Aim High grant program.

"You're basically getting a $50 million program for $25 million," Rose said.

He said it would help the state save some 6,000 students that would otherwise leave Illinois.

"We're going after students that aren't coming to our institutions already," Rose said. So "any dollar that that institution gets is money to the good."

The other proposals would try to make it easier for students to transfer course credits between public institutions; expand the debt limits at public universities to help them address deferred maintenance; and allow the Illinois State Board of Education to survey high school students about their contact information, GPA and career interests, and then pass that to all Illinois public institutions of higher education.

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