College Students: Read The Fine Print In The MAP Bill

Jun 18, 2018

Credit Carter Staley / NPR Illinois

Illinois has struggled for decades to persuade high school graduates to stay in-state for college. The recent two-year budget impasse only made things worse. Now, a group of lawmakers has a plan to reverse the trend, starting with the state’s Monetary Award Program.

Better known as MAP grants, the program channels state funds straight to colleges to help pay tuition for low-income students. But demand has always outstripped supply, making it tough for Illinois students to bank on MAP.

A bipartisan, bicameral task force focused on higher education persuaded the General Assembly to approve legislation designed to ensure MAP students can count on it for four years. The measure was part of a package of bills (some of which are on hold) they introduced and announced at a press conference last month. But the flyer they distributed glossed over one measure pertaining to the MAP grants.

The flyer says the bill would expand MAP grants from yearly to four years. But the actual legislative language stops short of a four-year guarantee, and instead promises MAP recipients first dibs to renew their grants.

Lynne Baker, communications director for the Illinois Student Assistance Commission, says media reports have been skipping the fine print. The bill “gives them priority access. So if there's a shortfall in MAP, they're going to have priority access,” she says. But that doesn’t mean it’s a for-sure thing.

In a statement to the media, ISAC spelled out the limits of the bill: “Neither the FY19 budget bills nor HB 5020 provide a four-year MAP guarantee. We understand that many legislators’ ultimate goal was to provide a four-year guarantee for MAP recipients, but neither the budget bills nor the MAP bill actually funds MAP for four years or guarantees it.”

Students will still have to submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (known as the FAFSA) every year, and they’ll have to submit it by a priority deadline that will be set by ISAC. And as always, MAP grants will only be available if the legislature approves the money for them, though — except for the budget impasse — the legislature has routinely approved MAP funding.

The bill has not yet been sent to Gov. Bruce Rauner, so it has not been signed into law. If enacted, it would go into effect by the start of the 2020-2021 school year.

ISAC has provided a list of frequently-asked questions and answers on its website.