Nora Lindvall, recently named as NIU’s Student Lincoln Laureate, has had a spectacular college career, to be sure. She is a stellar student with two majors, who speaks five languages and interned this past summer with the vice president of the European Parliament.
But Lindvall says her impressive college career would not have been possible without the help she received from the state’s Monetary Award Program (MAP), which is facing potential reductions for this coming spring.
Cutbacks to the financial aid program could impact thousands of NIU students, including Lindvall, and many more across Illinois. Lindvall is on a path to earn bachelor’s degrees with honors in both English and political science in May.
“If (the MAP grant) is significantly reduced or eliminated, I would have some severe problems because I don’t receive any family support. I have to pay for college all myself,” Lindvall says. “Without the MAP grant, I would not have been able to attend NIU, continue my studies and succeed academically.”
Marchers will protest potential cuts to funding of MAP grants and other areas impacting NIU, including faculty and staff pensions and the university’s operating budget.
The Student Association has been working “to put a face on the funding.” In Springfield, the NIU marchers will distribute “The Faces of MAP Grant” fliers, which include brief biographical sketches of NIU students who receive MAP aid.
Lindvall is among those profiled.
“We are seriously committed to improving the state of funding for higher education in Illinois,” Lindvall said, adding that several of her friends also would be affected by MAP reductions. “I know people that have to work several jobs, and some have children. This would affect them greatly and interrupt their degree progress for sure.”
Administered by the Illinois Student Assistance Commission (ISAC), MAP grants provide assistance to eligible students demonstrating financial need. Each year the amount of a student award depends on a number of factors, including program funding levels, which are determined by state legislators and the governor when they approve the annual state budget.
More than 6,200 NIU students – more than one in three undergraduate students – rely on MAP grant funding to help pay for their education. The average MAP recipient at NIU receives about $3,625 a year.
ISAC has warned students to brace for likely MAP grant shortfalls. The commission is seeking authority from the Illinois General Assembly to spend $33.5 million in funds that have been reserved for student financial assistance. But because MAP will be just one of many important issues that lawmakers might consider during a six-day legislative session that begins today (Oct. 25), ISAC officials cannot guarantee that they will be successful in securing the additional spending authority.
“We have students telling us they won’t be able to attend school without financial assistance, so it’s scary,” said Jill Zambito, NIU’s director of Student Involvement and Leadership Development.
And, even if additional spending authority is received to help alleviate some of the shortfall, reductions to 2011-12 MAP awards are still likely to become necessary.
“It’s time for the students to show how this impacts them,” said Austin Quick, speaker of the Student Association Senate, who is helping spearhead the Springfield rally. Quick said the Student Association’s efforts also aim to raise awareness that higher education cuts impact the entire state, not just the home districts where universities are located.
“All of us are affected by the proposed cuts – faculty, staff and most certainly students. No matter if you are talking about MAP grant funding or staff pensions, all of it will have an impact on the education that NIU is able to provide students for generations to come,” Quick said. “At a time when the state has increased our income taxes and fees, we are ready to fight for more funding for higher education.”
Transportation to and from Springfield will be provided by the Student Association, which has reserved two buses for the event. Signups are being taken on a first-come, first-serve basis with a deadline of 4 p.m. today (Oct. 25). Those interested should call (815) 753-0483.
The SA also urges students to contact their state legislators as soon as possible to respectfully communicate the importance of full MAP funding.
NIU administrators also will be in Springfield this week, representing the interests of students, faculty and staff. Updates will be posted on the NIU budget website as they occur.