Illinois college students urged to apply for $790 million in new federal grants

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[JULY 7, 2006]  CHICAGO -- Continuing efforts to help college students afford the high costs of tuition, Gov. Blagojevich on Wednesday urged qualified Pell Grant-eligible students to apply for new federal grants worth between $750 and $4,000 that will help make college more affordable. The new Academic Competitiveness Grant program and the National Science and Mathematics Access to Retain Talent Grant program provide $790 million in funding this fall and $4.5 billion over the next five years.

"These grants are one more way to help students and families across Illinois afford the high costs of college tuition," Blagojevich said. "I urge every student to look at the website and check their availability as soon as possible."

The grants provide further incentive for students to take more challenging courses in high school and to pursue college majors in high-demand areas, such as science, math, technology, engineering and critical foreign languages. The U.S. Department of Education estimates that approximately 500,000 students will qualify to receive these grants.

The Academic Competitiveness Grant provides college students who completed a rigorous course of study in high school with additional funds of up to $750 during their freshman year and up to $1,300 during their sophomore year. This is in addition to Pell Grant funds students are already receiving. College juniors and seniors who are eligible for the Science and Mathematics Access to Retain Talent Grant, known as the SMART Grant, automatically will receive up to $4,000 in additional aid next year.

To receive an Academic Competitiveness Grant, rising college freshmen and sophomores must be Pell Grant-eligible and have completed a program of rigorous high school course work as defined by their state and recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. To receive a SMART Grant, third- and fourth-year Pell Grant-eligible students must meet the requirements; major in designated science, technology, math or critical foreign languages; and maintain a 3.0 grade-point average.

The options for eligibility for the Academic Competitiveness Grant for the 2006-07 school year for a student from Illinois are:

  • A set of courses similar to the State Scholars Initiative. This program of study requires passing grades in the following:

    • Four years of English.

    • Three years of math, including Algebra I and a higher level course such as Algebra II, geometry, or data analysis and statistics.

    • Three years of science, including at least two courses from biology, chemistry or physics.

    • Three years of social studies.

    • One year of a foreign language.

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  • Advanced placement or international baccalaureate courses and test scores. This program requires a minimum of two advanced placement or international baccalaureate courses in high school and a minimum passing score on the exams for those classes. Students must score three or higher on advanced placement exams and four or higher on international baccalaureate exams.

Students can receive more information on eligibility and applications for both of these grant programs online at or by calling 1 (800) 4FEDAID [or 1 (800) 433-3243. For a fact sheet on the grants, click here. [To download Adobe Acrobat Reader for the PDF file, click here.]

In 2005, the governor's Higher Standards, Better Schools plan increased Illinois' high school graduation requirements to help graduates better prepare for higher education and the work force. Blagojevich fought for increased education funding to support his Higher Standards, Better Schools plan to support dual credit and dual enrollment classes, advanced placement courses, career preparation programs, and added arts and foreign language classes.

In fiscal 2007, Blagojevich provided the Monetary Award Program with its largest increase in 10 years, a boost of 10 percent over fiscal 2006, and created a new program to help middle-income families as well. With a new investment of $34.4 million, he created MAP Plus to help middle-class families who didn't receive the traditional MAP grants and who struggle to afford rising college tuition costs. MAP Plus will provide a grant of $500 per student for sophomores, juniors and seniors from families with incomes less than $200,000 who attend college in Illinois. An additional increase of $34.4 million was added to the original MAP grants to increase the grant awards to their statutory maximum of up to $4,968. In total, 225,000 students will benefit from the creation of MAP Plus and the additional funding for MAP. Senate Bill 2225 was sponsored by Sen. Edward Maloney, D-Chicago, and Rep. Kevin McCarthy, D-Orland Park.

[News release from the governor's office]


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