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Grants For Low-Income College Students Finally Begin To Flow With New State Budget

In this June 14, 2017, file photo, Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza responds to a reporter's question during an interview in here office about the state budget in Chicago. G-Jun Yam/Associated Press

Becky Vevea

Now that Illinois finally has a budget, low-income college students who were promised state grants to help cover tuition for this coming school year will get their money in time for classes this fall, the Illinois Student Assistance Commission confirmed on Thursday.

Many students promised Monetary Award Program (MAP) grants over the last two years during the state budget stalemate did not know if the money would ever materialize. On Thursday, Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza announced that her office is fast-tracking more than $500 million in taxpayer dollars collected last year but never disbursed to universities to cover past MAP grants and other operating expenses.

“It’s nice to have the certainty before the school year starts,” said Lynne Baker, a spokeswoman for the Illinois Student Assistance Commission, which administers the state MAP grant program. “Students aren’t scrambling and wondering, ‘Do I go? Do I drop out? Do I take less classes? How many more hours do I have to work?’”

Now, anyone who already received a financial aid letter for next school year that includes an estimated MAP grant will get it, provided they attend a school in Illinois come fall, Baker said.

MAP grants are awarded to low-income students on a first-come, first-served basis. The new state budget increases the amount of MAP funding for the coming school year by 10 percent. ISAC doesn’t know yet how many students will ultimately get awards, Baker said

No state money had been distributed to state colleges and universities in Illinois since January. Throughout the budget stalemate, schools were forced to lay off hundreds of employees and cut programs.

Becky Vevea covers education for WBEZ. You can follow her at @WBEZeducation