SPRINGFIELD - State Sen. Chapin Rose on Monday filed a bill that would prohibit the state from distributing money from its college assistance program to needy students planning to enroll at for-profit institutions such as DeVry University and Northwestern Business College.
In the last decade, the Illinois Monetary Assistance Program, one of the largest aid programs for college students in the country, has faced a number of growing challenges, including increased need among low-income students, college tuition rates rising above inflation and an uncertain state budget outlook. Last year only about half of the students who qualified for grants were able to receive them. After the money ran out in March, there were still 145,000 eligible students who were not able to receive any grants.
For the 2011-2012 school year, the state directed about $411 million in MAP grants. Of that, close to $24 million, or 6 percent, went to help pay for students' tuition at for-profit schools, according to the Illinois Student Assistance Commission, the state agency that oversees the program.
That's money that could be going to help pay the tuition of lower-income students attending the University of Illinois, Parkland College or Millikin University, said Rose, a Mahomet Republican.
"We're behind in general payments to the schools. Anyway you look at it, (directing money to for-profits) is clearly unjustifiable at this time," Rose said. "It's padding the balance sheet of these for-profit entities and their stockholders," he said.
In 2011-2012, 8,400 Illinois students enrolled in for-profit schools received MAP grants. That's about 5.3 percent of the approximately 158,000 MAP grants awarded, according to the commission.
Commission spokesman John Samuels said staff has not had time to review the language in the bill, SB1591.
"Until we see the language, we have no position on the bill," he said. However, he did add: "Generally we support student choice."
When Rose introduced similar legislation two years ago, the commission raised concerns about the timing of the implementation and current students being adversely affected. The previous bill, introduced in the Illinois House when Rose was a representative, passed that body but did not gain any traction in the Senate.
The Illinois Monetary Assistance Program, which dates back to the late 1960s, began including for-profit institutions in 1998 as a result of action by the General Assembly.
The state requires the for-profit institutions meet several criteria. The college must have its main campus in Illinois, be regionally accredited and the majority of its students must be in programs that lead to an associate's degree or higher.
Nine schools are currently qualified, according to Samuels.
Of the for-profit schools that had students receiving MAP grants in 2011-2012, the largest recipient was DeVry University with $10.3 million, followed by the Illinois Institute of Art with $5.2 million and Northwestern Business College with $2.8 million.
"If Illinois is to compete in a global economy, it must provide the educational access and choice students need to pursue their career goals," said Ernie Gibble, senior director of global communications for DeVry, the parent company of DeVry University. "Eliminating students who attend private-sector schools from the MAP program will not help our Illinois workforce succeed, or help our nation meet President Obama's college attainment goals," he said.
Gibble said his company supports a statewide task force's recommendation of maintaining current eligibility requirements "and uphold the founding principle of the MAP program: students know best where they should pursue their education."
"We look forward to working side-by-side with the General Assembly, board of higher education and student assistance commission to support the responsible use of state dollars while also preserving student choice," Gribble said.
Because of the challenges facing MAP, the General Assembly last year called for a statewide task force of educators, researchers, financial aid administrators and students to review the program and consider possible changes to how money is distributed and how students and institutions qualify to receive grants. Its members reviewed more than 100 different scenarios, such as distributing a smaller amount of grants to more students and adopting a merit component, but ultimately did not recommend any major overhaul or policy changes to the program.
The task force did review what it called the "California model" where that state has begun requiring institutions to meet certain performance standards such as graduation rates and loan default rates, or risk losing eligibility.
"The problem with the California model is it was more based on institutional performance than student performance. It's a model the task force elected not to pursue," Samuels said.
The task force did review data analysis that showed if a student drops out of a four-year institution and re-enrolls in a community college the following fall, it is rare for that student to go on to graduate or complete a certificate program. As a result, the task force recommended a one-year "time-out" for MAP recipients who might fall into this category before they can receive any more grant money.
On Monday, Rose filed another MAP-related bill, SB 1592, that refers to the task force's "time-out" recommendation and similar ones that the task force recommended having to do with requiring colleges to offer comprehensive advising programs for grant recipients and requiring recipients to participate in those programs as a condition of receiving the grant.