MAP grant students react to possibly paying back their grant

By Cory Ray, @coryray_DE

Joshua Bowens works more than 60 hours a week — sometimes only getting a few hours of sleep between classes — and if he has to pay back his MAP grant money, he may have to take on more. 

Bowens could be another victim of the state budget impasse that has denied the university an appropriation. 

This academic year SIUC fronted Monetary Award Program Grants for 4,766 students on campus. At its meeting on March 24, the SIU Board of Trustees discussed the possibility of asking students for the money back.

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Bowens, a low-income sophomore from Chicago studying political science, works three jobs to help pay for school. He’s an orientation leader for the university and also works at Rue 21 and a hotel. 

He said the fronted grant helped him to stay at the university by paying for what his job couldn’t. Now, he doesn’t know what to do.

“There’s a lot of questions,” Bowens said. “We’re just all waiting.”

Students at the Illinois Institute of Technology also received fronted grants this academic year and are now being asked to give back that money. SIU President Randy Dunn said many universities in the state are deciding on this matter, but he is asking the SIU board to hold off on a decision until two or three more months down the road.

Dunn said he wants to see what the situation with the state budget will be in the next few months before rushing into a final ruling, which would likely be at a special board meeting.

Because Dunn and others believed Illinois’ budget impasse would be a short-term problem this past summer, they decided to front the grants.

“As we sit here practically a year later, the cash position of the university is so much more dire,” Dunn said.

Public universities have not received any state money since July 1. 

Dunn said the rumor is Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and the Democratic-led Legislature might not pass a budget as it heads into the final quarter of the fiscal year. Thus, the university would have no reimbursement of the fronted money.

A bill that would have given reimbursements to universities for fronted MAP grants was vetoed earlier this year by Rauner.

Dunn said if students were to pay back the fronted grants, they would likely have a longer period of payback than usual as well as a larger amount on their bursar account when considering holds.

“If we would decide that we have to bail out for fiscal year 15-16 and or that we can no longer front the [grant] for 16-17, that has nothing but a negative impact on our students,” Dunn said. “It’ll hurt enrollment for the coming years; there’s no doubt about it.”

Earlier this year, Bowens lessened his work hours after the university fronted his MAP grant, but since the board meeting last week, he has increased them again. Sometimes, he works all of his jobs in the course of one day.

A typical day for Bowens means preparing for his 8 a.m. class at 6 a.m. followed by various organization meetings — such as Undergraduate Student Government — before he heads to work.

Then he does it all over again. He said many nights he goes without sleep and he only manages to find it in spare pockets of time.

“It gives me anxiety,” Bowens said. “It’s nerve-wracking.”

Regardless, he said he would not have the money to pay back the university to continue to be enrolled. For Bowens, his hope to return would rely on either additional scholarships or yet another loan.

Naomi Tolbert, a junior from Carbondale studying political science, funds her education through a combination of loans, scholarships, grants and her own money. Like Bowens, Tolbert said she would not have the money to pay if the university asked for it.

Tolbert said she wished she would have known of the possibility of paying back the money when it was distributed.

“It’s just discouraging,” Tolbert said. “As a student, you have all these opportunities and you have this assistance to help you fill those opportunities and to help you fulfill those goals you have in the future. It’s basically turned back. It’s a slap in the face.”

Bowens and Tolbert, who are both running for the SIUC student trustee position — which would begin July 1, said representing MAP grant students influenced them to run.

“It was a waiting game when they fronted us the MAP grant,” Bowens said. “Now, it’s just a matter of if they will try something else. That’s the waiting game. We’re waiting to choose a door — see what door they’re going to walk into — so we can all follow.”

Cory Ray can be reached at [email protected] or at 618-536-3325.

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