Senator proposes bill privatizing public universities

Stephanie Markham, News Editor

The Illinois Senate is considering legislation that would make students repay half or all of their MAP Grants depending on length to graduation; meanwhile, a bill was filed in the House that would require a 3.0 high school GPA or an 18 ACT score for MAP eligibility.

Sen. Bill Brady (R-Bloomington), who proposed Senate Bill 1565 regarding MAP Grant repayments, also proposed an amendment to that bill including plans to transition all public universities to private in the next six years.

The amendment includes separate provisions for Eastern as well as the University of Illinois, Southern Illinois University, Chicago State University, Governors State University, Illinois State University, Northeastern Illinois University, Northern Illinois University and Western Illinois University.

The amendment states that each university’s board of trustees would have to devise a plan to slowly relinquish its authority and appoint a governing board to replace itself.

If approved, the transition would begin July 1. It would also mean the Illinois Board of Higher Education would no longer have authority over the universities.

SB 1565 would amend the Higher Education Student Assistance Act so that grant recipients who graduate in four years or less must repay half the amount they received, and those who do not graduate in that time would have to repay the entire amount over a 10-year period.

Additionally, students would have to take at least 15 credit hours to receive grants, and they would be relieved of one-eighth of their payments for each year they live in Illinois after graduation.

The bill is scheduled for a Higher Education Committee hearing at 3 p.m. Tuesday.

House Bill 3974, proposed by Rep. Reggie Phillips (R-Charleston), would also amend the Higher Education Student Assistance Act to include the academic requirements for MAP eligibility.

It is scheduled for a Higher Education Committee hearing at 4 p.m. Wednesday.

Carol Waldmann, the interim director of financial aid, said she is concerned that HB 3974 would limit many students’ opportunities to attend college.

“It bothers me that they are doing this because there’s an awful lot of students who are good students and are going to excel in college that don’t have a 3.0 GPA coming out of high school or an ACT score of 18,” Waldmann said.

President Bill Perry said he saw many issues with adding these new standards possibly required for those seeking MAP Grant support. He said it would disadvantage access to many students who might need the funds to attend college.

“Every university could have some issues with this,” Perry said. “I know we have just a few students on MAP (who) would not be able to get the MAP Grant under that.”

The state and universities need to be seeking more accessibility instead of less, and the bill might hinder that, he said.

Phillips could not be reached for comment about the bill.

Regarding SB 1565, Waldmann said MAP Grants would essentially become grant-loans similar to Federal Teach Grants that become loans if recipients do not teach in the state after graduation.

“A loan is a loan is a loan is what I’m seeing, and I’m not liking that,” Waldmann said. “I would rather see them cut back the maximum amount of the MAP Grant and leave the loan part of it away, just get rid of that, because the concept is to save money for the state.”

She said she foresees problems with students not having flexibility in their class schedules or possibly turning down the grants and attending college in other states.

Eastern currently has 2,460 students receiving MAP Grants totaling nearly $8.7 million. Students can receive the grants for up to 135 credit hours, and students with zero expected family contribution receive $4,720 per year.

Waldmann predicted that a student with full eligibility would have $9,440 to pay back to the state after graduation if the bill is passed.

According to a press release, SB 1565 seeks to reduce the costs of attaining a degree, encourage graduates to live in the state, and increase competition with out-of-state universities.

“Attending a public university in Illinois is expensive, and Illinois high school students are leaving the state in favor of out-of-state colleges at a high rate,” Brady said in the release. “For Illinois to thrive in the long term, it cannot keep losing great students to more attractive out-of-state universities.”

According to the release, the money now appropriated to public universities would instead be transferred to eligible students in the form of grants once the six-year transition to becoming private universities takes place.

The release also states that the bill seeks to lease the state’s assets like university buildings to the universities themselves, giving the universities more control of day-to-day operations.

Perry said making current public universities non-public would create a lot of issues.

“All those (tuition) rates at privates generally are roughly two to three times what they are at Eastern,” Perry said. “It would be a huge blow to affordability.”

He said this would also limit access to higher education.

“I don’t support the bill, and I think it is a move in the wrong direction,” Perry said.

“It is an unprecedented move, certainly in Illinois.”

Jarad Jarmon contributed to this article.

Stephanie Markham can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected].