University presidents demand action on MAP grants, higher education funding

Sam Fishel, Staff Reporter

Presidents from several of Illinois’ colleges and universities convened in Springfield on Tuesday to urge legislative action on FY’16 and FY’17 budgets before a major deadline on Thursday.

During an hour-long address at the Illinois State Capitol, Eastern community members joined presidents from the University of Illinois, Illinois State University, Illinois College and Kankakee Community College in calling for immediate action to fund the state’s withering higher education system.

Eastern student body president Catie Witt began the event by noting that “the future of [higher] education in Illinois is in peril” due to the continued impasse between Democrats and Republican Governor Bruce Rauner that will enter its second year Friday.

Witt said that the MAP grant program continues to suffer due to the impasse, denying accessibility to thousands of students across the state, including herself.

Illinois College president Barbara Farley said that 41% of the students at her Jacksonville campus receive MAP grants. Without them, many students from diverse cultural and economic backgrounds lose out on the opportunity to improve their future job prospects.

“Illinois’ higher education system must be accessible to all students of all backgrounds,” she emphasized. “Without the promised support of MAP grants, their plans for a better future are at risk.”

When asked by a reporter, Eastern president David Glassman indicated that Eastern would be able to provide MAP grants to students during the fall semester. He did not specify how this would be done.

Several speakers spoke to the belief that continued uncertainty in higher education has tarnished the state university system’s reputation.

“Illinois families are losing faith in Illinois higher education,” Illinois State University president Larry Dietz said. He added that many of Illinois’ best students and most talented faculty have begun to seek out higher education in neighboring states “that are willing to promise a measure of support and stability.”

University of Illinois president Timothy Killeen furthered this point by expressing his concern about the effects this year’s tribulations could have on the “legacy of excellence” established by universities such as his own.

Along with these noted speakers, former Eastern employee Joe McLean spoke about the difficulties he and his family have faced as he was bumped and laid off  in the past year.

“The economic ripple effect of lay offs and furloughs is big and it’s getting bigger,” he said. He added that nearly 37.5% of all retail sales in Charleston rely on Eastern students and faculty in order to emphasize the effect the budget impasse is having on local economies.

In concluding her remarks, Farley had a single, powerful admonition for Illinois’ lawmakers: “Don’t take us for granted.” She further implored state lawmakers to put students first, as the state universities have done over the past year.

Dietz concluded by firmly warning that without immediate action, further rounds of layoffs and reductions would be on the horizon.

“The time for talk has long since passed…the Governor and state lawmakers must act to put an end to this crisis.”


Sam Fishel can be reached at 581-2812 or at [email protected]