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Students, universities rally to fight financial aid cuts

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Chancellor Paula Allen-Meares and Gov. Pat Quinn
Chancellor Paula Allen-Meares and Gov. Pat Quinn speak at Tuesday’s town hall meeting on financial aid.

Photo: Kathryn Marchetti

Sara Agate decided she wanted to be a doctor after watching her father recover from a serious car accident in 2004.

As a sophomore at UIC, she’s worked hard to excel through the Hispanic Center of Excellence in Medicine Scholars Program.

But now she isn’t sure what her future will hold. To stay in school, she relies on a state financial aid program that could be cut next semester.

“Dedication, motivation and education create opportunities,” Agate said. “Without the Monetary Award Program, our future as students is in jeopardy. We hope that you will not forget us.”

Agate was one of several students who spoke at a town hall meeting hosted by Gov. Pat Quinn Tuesday afternoon in Student Center West.

Students and administrators from colleges and universities across the state gathered at UIC to support the restoration of funding for the Monetary Award Program.

“It’s important that we invest in students here and across Illinois,” Quinn said. “You are our future.”

Based on the current state budget, undergraduate students won’t receive their Monetary Award Program grants for the spring semester — cutting each student’s aid by as much as $2,500. The Illinois Student Assistance Commission, which administers the grant, said state funding for the program was cut in half.

So far this fall, 6,050 UIC students have received about $13 million from MAP grants. Spring grants will only be awarded if more state funding becomes available.

The rally was part of a Save Illinois MAP Grants campaign launched by the Illinois Student Assistance Commission. The group is urging students, parents and educators to contact their state representative before the General Assembly’s veto session Oct. 14-16 and Oct. 28-30.

Cuts to the MAP program would mean about 138,000 students across the state will receive only half their award this year. The grants are distributed each year to students who display the most financial need based on calculations from the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.

The state legislature must find long- and short-term solutions to funding higher education, Quinn said. He proposed using revenue generated from income taxes, cigarette taxes and closed loopholes in the state tax code.

“We must work together to solve a problem that must be solved right now, this year, and for years to come,” Quinn said.

Higher education is “the fuel that drives the economic engine of the state,” Chancellor Paula Allen-Meares told the crowd that filled the second-floor meeting rooms, most of them students.

“The state of Illinois cannot afford to disinvest in higher education,” Allen-Meares said. “Without a fully funded program, thousands of students across Illinois will have their education interrupted or will be forced to incur additional debt.”

UIC students presented Gov. Quinn with a petition signed by 1,400 undergraduates in support of restoring funding for the grant.

Agate read and presented the governor a plaque of the UIC Senate resolution passed Thursday on MAP grant funding.

“Loss of the MAP program will seriously jeopardize the ability of these deserving Illinois students to pursue and complete their education due to their inability to enroll for the spring 2010 semester,” the resolution states.

“The UIC Senate calls upon Gov. Quinn and his legislative colleagues to better serve the deserving students of Illinois and their families by fully restoring funding to ISAC for the spring 2010 and thereafter.”

Quinn urged students to contact their state legislators about the importance of financial aid.

“I know the power of citizens banding together,” he said. “Help is on the way. We’re going to win this battle.”

UIC’s Undergraduate Student Government is organizing a student lobby day Oct. 15 for students to speak with legislators in Springfield.


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