MAP recipients face cuts

By Matt Michalek

Although students might be getting the full amount of aid from the state-funded Monetary Award Program this fall, they could be in for a rude awakening come spring.

Because of an increase in qualified applicants, the program is running out of money and the award might have to be cut by 50 percent for the spring semester.

The Illinois Student Assistance Commission voted last week to resume processing applications after it had stopped during the summer when it realized the money might be running out.

“At one point there was a 17 percent increase in applicants over last year,” said ISAC spokesman Robert Clement.

“Students are applying early and lots of students are applying,” he said.

According to ISAC Vice Chairman David Eisenman, the increase in qualified applicants is driven by the recession.

“First, when times are bad, more young people go to a community college than get a job out of high school,” he said. “Also older people who get laid off go back to school instead of sitting around at home.”

An increase in community college enrollment during a recession is a common occurrence, he said.

Another recession-driven reason for the jump in applicants is that people previously not qualified for the grant are now becoming qualified.

“Students whose parents were able to pay for college before the recession can’t afford to now,” he said.

Because of this increase in qualified applicants, ISAC decided in June to suspend processing MAP applications until they could assess the situation and decide on a course of action.

After a quick study, ISAC found out that the reason for the increase was twofold.

“First, there was a speed up of applications. People were applying earlier than usual,” he said. “Second, there was a definite increase in the number of applications.

“It worked out to a 10 percent increase in the number of applications over last year. We have 25,000 to 30,000 more people applying for aid than we have money in the budget for,” he said.

ISAC decided to resume processing the fall awards up until the Oct. 1 deadline, he said.

“We will pay the fall awards at the full amount to every qualified applicant who makes the October deadline,” he said.

“We want to get the fall off to an orderly start and then make the drastic cuts in the spring,” he said.

Because of the resumption of processing for the fall awards, the spring awards will have to be severely cut, Eisenman said.

The average cut would be about $70-100, but the cut could be much higher than that figure, he said.

“The worst case scenario is that the spring awards will be cut by 50 percent,” he said. “At this point though, it is still too early to tell exactly what will happen as the year goes on.

“We decided to keep it simple by paying out all the fall awards while waiting to see what happens,” he said.

NIU Financial Aid Director Jerry Augsburger said that cuts in the spring MAP awards of 50 percent presents a terrible picture.

“It is mind boggling to think of a scenario that would call for a $700 cut in spring awards,” he said.

“I can’t imagine cuts that are five times larger than the largest reduction in the past. It would be catastrophic,” he said.

Even with cuts as severe as 50 percent, MAP recipients at NIU would most likely not be in financial trouble.

“MAP recipients who have their spring award cut would then be eligible for that many more dollars through the Stafford Loan Program,” Augsburger said.

“We would be able to process a new Stafford Loan for those students. They would be filling in the gap in grant money with loan money,” he said.

NIU student Renee Zonzo said she receives the MAP award, but that she was unaware of the possible spring cuts.

“I totally rely on the money to pay for school,” she said. “The money I made working over the summer is going to pay the rent, so I need the grant to pay the tuition.

“Hopefully my Stafford Loan will increase, so I will be able to pay for school,” she said.

Eisenman said that ISAC is committed to working with financial aid offices to create a safety net to help students who would otherwise have to drop out of school because of the MAP cuts.

“This is the worst thing I’ve seen in 14 years on the commission,” he said.

“The prudent thing for MAP recipients to do is economize like MAP until spring,” Eisenman said. “Don’t spent any money that you absolutely do not need to.

“The MAP awards are going to be cut in the spring, it’s a fact. It is just a matter of how much the cuts will be,” he said.