Daily Egyptian

Letter to the editor: Paying back MAP grants is a road we should avoid

While those at the top of SIU seem to be very comfortable, too many students at this university find themselves in frightening and confusing circumstances, for one reason or another. This uneasiness is exacerbated for the thousands of students who have “received” Monetary Award Program grants over the last two semesters. 

MAP grants are awarded to some the most economically vulnerable undergraduate students in Illinois. SIUC awarded MAP grants to 4,766 students over the last two semesters in amounts up to $4,968 per student.  These students live in an era of skyrocketing higher education costs and the normalization of a massive student debt regime in which young people mortgage their future with the easy credit made available to them via campus financial aid offices to cover these costs.

The ongoing budget crisis in Illinois has witnessed a new innovation in the “courses on credit complex;” the idea that students may actually be held liable for MAP grant money that they accepted as part of their financial aid if the state does not come up with the funds.

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Susan Ford, provost of SIUC, gave credence to this logic when she explained a few months ago: “I think every student who receives MAP grants understands that, when the university honors that, it’s acting as a bank, dependent on whether the state funds them or not.”

In other words, what is reported to MAP recipients as grant money really may, in the end, function as a loan in which the university floats them credit to pay itself. 

This slippery rationale approached its doublespeak nadir at Illinois Tech on March 23 when its vice president of student enrollment officially offered MAP grant recipients at that institution “MAP Grant Replacement Loans.” These loans would allow students to stay in school while paying any remaining portion of their MAP grant left uncovered by the state back to the school over the next year in monthly installments with an interest rate of 6.8%. Their other options were to pay their newly inflated bursar bill in full or to leave the balance on their bursar bill and be subject to a hold on their account (and presumably also service charges and whatever other measures the institution has for dealing with outstanding balances.)

There has been no official resolution for MAP grant recipients at SIU.

In fact, Randy Dunn has encouraged the university Board of Trustees to wait until the summer to make an announcement on what the fate of MAP grant recipients may be.

While our administrators continue to receive lavish salaries and benefits, the lives of thousands of vulnerable students at SIU has been left to hang in the balance of whatever the outcome of the state’s budget impasse may be.

This is unfair.

Our administration needs to ease the minds and reaffirm the dignity of our MAP grant recipients by promising not to go after them for any missing money from the state.

My request is simple: immediately abolish the possibility of students being charged for state grants that they accepted as part of their financial aid package from a state institution.

This would involve a prompt guarantee to current MAP grant recipients that they will not be on the hook for any grant money that they accepted at SIU. Our administrators should follow other entities that receive state funding in suing the state for missing funds or resign from their positions and collect their severance packages and pensions before they make themselves complicit in a grants-are-really-loans bait and switch scheme perpetrated on our most vulnerable students.  

Again, such a possibility should be abolished at this university, even if the MAP grant money for the current academic year comes through in full.

Things are bad enough for economically disadvantaged students; let’s not allow “grants that you have to pay back” to gain institutional legitimacy under our watch.

Andrew Gillespie is a graduate student in philosophy from Alton

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