New legislation to make college more affordable for middle-class families

Fiscal year 2007 budget to help 225,000 college students pay for college

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[AUG. 1, 2006]  SKOKIE -- Joined by students, higher education leaders and elected officials at National-Louis University in suburban Skokie on Sunday, Gov. Blagojevich signed Senate Bill 2225, legislation that creates the first grant program ever in Illinois specifically targeted at helping middle-class families pay for college. MAP Plus provides $500 grants to college sophomores, juniors and seniors from families with incomes below $200,000. The fiscal 2007 budget also includes increased funding for the existing Monetary Award Program, which serves students from lower-income families. In total, 225,000 students will benefit from the creation of MAP Plus and the additional funding for MAP.

"MAP Plus is the first grant program ever in Illinois specifically designed to help middle-class families afford the high cost of college," Blagojevich said. "Imagine if you're a parent working hard, trying and struggling to afford to send your child to college. Five hundred dollars a year makes a difference."

Senate Bill 2225, sponsored by Sen. Edward Maloney, D-Chicago, and Rep. Kevin McCarthy, D-Orland Park, created the new MAP Plus program. MAP Plus will provide a $500 grant per student for sophomores, juniors and seniors from families with incomes less than $200,000 who attend college in Illinois but did not receive MAP grants. In total, 225,000 students will benefit from the creation of MAP Plus and the additional funding for MAP. Funding for MAP this year is up by $34.4 million -- increasing grants to help more students and their parents afford college. The fiscal 2007 budget also includes $34.4 million for the MAP Plus program

"We have made higher education more accessible for students throughout the state of Illinois," said Maloney. "We had to address the affordability issue, and with the increased money going to MAP and this new MAP Plus program, this is definitely going to be a real plus for virtually all students in the state of Illinois, because it is not going to be just the poorer students, but this will help the middle-class families as well."

"The signing of this legislation opens up the possibility of much-needed assistance to thousands of families across Illinois," said McCarthy. "I look forward to continue working with Governor Blagojevich in his efforts to assist our middle-class families as they pursue their dreams of a college education."

The average annual cost of tuition and fees to attend a public university in Illinois is over $7,000, more than doubling in the past 10 years, and the average cost for private colleges is more than $20,000, according to Illinois Student Assistance Commission data. Even two-year community colleges in Illinois have experienced an 80 percent hike and now average $2,465 in tuition and fees. Nationally, the average yearly cost in tuition and fees for public universities is $9,877, and $26,025 for private universities, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Studies show a continuing gap between what working families can afford and the cost of an undergraduate's education. Yet a college-educated work force remains critical for the state's economic future. Estimates by the U.S. Census Bureau show that lifetime earnings are over $900,000 greater for a person with a bachelor's degree versus a high school graduate.

"The Illinois Board of Higher Education is dedicated to making college more affordable to students of all ages," said Judy Erwin, executive director of the education board. "It clearly is important to ensuring Illinois has the qualified work force for a bright economic future. While we continue to work to enhance needs-based financial aid for low-income students, the debt load for students from middle-income families has become a crushing burden. The governor's innovative MAP Plus initiative will go a long way in making college more affordable and reducing the heavy debt from student loans."

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Funding for MAP Plus will come from restructuring or selling part of the student loan portfolio now held by the Illinois Student Assistance Commission. MAP Plus has been approved only for the upcoming school year, after which the commission -- by statutory requirement -- will recommend whether MAP Plus should continue.

In a letter to Illinois college financial assistance officers last week, the commission's chairman, Donald McNeil, assured administrators that MAP Plus funding will be in place for the 2006-2007 school year and the restructuring will not negatively impact the commission.

"Rest assured that any reorganization, restructuring or other revenue-generating transactions approved by the commission will not adversely affect ISAC's scholarship and grant administration, student outreach activities, or ability to provide exceptional student loan services," McNeil said.

MAP Plus was inspired by the unparalleled success of Illinois' Monetary Award Program, which has been providing assistance to college students from lower-income families since 1967. MAP Plus, like MAP, will be administered by Illinois Student Assistance Commission, which also administers the Illinois Veterans Grant Program, Silas Purnell Illinois Incentive for Access Program, teacher scholarship programs and others.

Created in 1957 by the Illinois General Assembly, the Illinois Student Assistance Commission -- originally the Illinois State Scholarship Commission -- has become the state's centralized provider of financial assistance aimed at helping students and families access postsecondary education. In the past half-century, millions of Illinois families have benefited from government financial assistance programs administered by the commission.

In 2005 alone, the Illinois Student Assistance Commission awarded more than $400 million in scholarship and grant aid to more than 210,000 college students and an additional $1.1 billion to 250,000 borrowers through various student loan programs. Further, countless high school students received free financial aid counseling through the commission's innovative CollegeZone website and other outreach programs.

The fiscal 2007 budget also includes a $48 million increase in general funds for higher education. Universities will receive more than $18 million to attract and retain the best faculty and staff, and community college grants will increase by almost $7 million.

[News release from the governor's office]

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