Coalition rallies in Springfield, lobbies for budget 


Analicia Haynes

Supporters for higher education gathered in Springfield Wednesday to push toward a solution for the budget impasse.

Analicia Haynes, Administration Editor

Students, educators, community members and other supporters of higher education poured into the State Capitol Wednesday and pushed for another chance at funding.

The Illinois Coalition to Invest in Higher Education, which formed at the end of 2015, organized the rally and invited universities and community colleges from across the state to share their experiences with the budget impasse.

Gathered under a yellow tent to avoid the rain, a variety of speakers from state representatives to students motivated the audience and demanded that the legislators and the governor fund their future.

The state has been without a budget for ten months and as a result, universities and community colleges are suffering, including Chicago State University, which recently told all students and staff to turn in their keys in anticipation of mass layoffs.

Funding for the Monetary Award Program grants has also taken a massive blow, something many of the speakers addressed at the rally.

Though Eastern put forth the money to fund this semester’s MAP grants, students from other universities were not as fortunate.

Lizandra Gomez-Ramirez, a junior from Augustana College, said being a recipient of the MAP grant has allowed her to enjoy the full college experience, but she is concerned about the future of the grants.

“My concern with the MAP grant not getting funded revolves around my family,” Gomez-Ramirez said. “One of my sisters is going to college next year, and I’m just scared how that will affect my family.”

Along with highlighting the importance of funding MAP grants, several of the speakers discussed other consequences resulting from the lack of budget, such as the impact on communities where colleges and universities are located.

Catie Witt, the executive vice president and the only student representing Eastern at the rally, said the Student Action Team wanted to attend but could not as a result of cuts in transportation.

Witt, a first generation college student and recipient of the MAP grant, said she relied on her mom financially and the MAP Grant was important to her and one-third of the students at Eastern.

“State universities do their part by providing the state with educated individuals who are talented and go into the workforce,” Witt said. “All I ask from the state is that they do their part and fund higher education.”

Joe Haynes, a senior representing Harper College, encouraged audience members to stand together.    

“Today we stand on the brink of destiny with our presence here being a demonstration to our commitment to have that which forwards the promise of our nation–education,” Haynes said. “And the only way we can have this is if we stand together.” 

Haynes said education has always been the cornerstone for change in society as it empowers individuals with the capacity to dream and work for the better of the collective.

Haynes said operational funding is crucial to continuing student success and students need a clean, responsible funding solution now.

“My brothers and sisters, until this crisis passes by our eyes we must not remain separate in our interests. We must no longer be just EIU, CSU, ISU or Harper. We must be the united colleges of Illinois,” Haynes said. “We must stand until our voices are made heard and our demands are met.”  

The crowd cheered after each speaker and joined them in chants such as “take MAP back,” and “fund our future, do it now.” 

After the speakers united the crowd, participants emerged from under the tent and made their way to the Capitol Building doors to lobby legislators for a solution. 

Darren Martin, a junior at Chicago State University, spoke at the rally and said he wanted to go across the aisle and talk to Republican leaders.  

“I want to ask them what their dreams are for higher education and what their vision is,” Martin said.

Martin said the schools in Republican-represented areas such as Eastern are feeling the same pain as everyone else.  

“We have to fight for our future; we have to fight for our kids, grandkids, nieces, nephews, younger brothers and sisters,” Martin said. “Don’t outsource our future, Gov. Bruce Rauner, keep it here in the state.” 

David Tretter, the president of the Federation of Independent Illinois Colleges and Universities, organized the rally and said it is important for higher education, public and private, to work together to ensure Illinois’ citizens have the opportunity to pursue a college degree.

“In light of no FY16 funding for students and operating funding for the public universities and community colleges, that opportunity was placed in peril for thousands of students,” Tretter said.

Ryan Keith, a spokesman for the coalition, said they came together in response to the state’s ongoing stalemate in funding higher education and hope the rally will help amplify this message.

Made up of groups such as the Illinois Education Association, business organizations and labor groups, which represent workers and retirees on the various campuses across the state, the coalition has been very active in 2016 as they push for a solution, Keith said.  

Analicia Haynes can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]