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College Grad Considers Leaving State After A Year Without A State Budget

The state’s budget impasse means Mercedez Jones is still missing financial aid from undergrad. And that’s playing into her choices for grad school.

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Mercedez Jones

Illinois has nearly gone a full year without a comprehensive state budget and many programs have been reduced - or ended altogether - because the government never paid for the services.

Over the last year, WBEZ has highlighted several programs caught in the middle of the state budget impasse and we’re checking back in with some of the people we’ve met.

Mercedez Jones had recently graduated from the University of Illinois at Chicago, and part of her education was paid for with MAP grants - a state program to help low-income students pay for college.

But her grant has still not been paid. She says the UIC hasn’t charged her for it, but if there’s no appropriation for MAP grants in the next state budget, she’s not sure if she’d have to pay retroactively.

We caught up with Jones and talked to her about what the impasse means for her plans to attend grad school.

You’ve applied to a couple grad schools, some in Illinois and some outside of the state. Will MAP grants play any part in deciding between these schools?
As a graduate student, I’m a little less eligible for (the MAP grant), but it’s going to be more so about the funding of higher education in Illinois and in Chicago. Even though I’m looking at private schools, they still receive funding from the state and if the state isn’t funding higher education here then that means those kinds of costs would be passed on to me as a student, in which case that would heavily affect my decision of where I go because it’s going to be (about) how much I can afford.

So do you think you would fare better in Michigan or Wisconsin if there is no budget agreement in Illinois?
Yes, I think that because they have a balanced budget and they are looking to invest in their higher education ... that it would be easier for me to have an easier time funding my education and it wouldn’t be as expensive and as much of a toll on me while I’m going to school.

Are you hearing other students say they’re considering leaving?
There are a lot of individuals who are like ‘wait, I don’t know if I really want to go to college here anymore,’ because they know that there’s just these continuing problems that they’re going to have to deal with year after year after year.

What do you want to tell state lawmakers?
I want to tell them that they should invest in higher education, because what’s going to lead to job growth and what’s going to help boost the Illinois economy is having an educated workforce. And you can’t have an educated workforce if you’re not investing in that higher education.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Illinois hasn’t had a budget since July 1, 2015. Listen to our collection of stories about the people Caught in the Middle of the impasse.

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