October 18, 2012
by Paul Morello
NORMAL - Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon stopped at Illinois State University Thursday to stress the importance of college affordability.
Simon said Illinois ranks last in the country when measuring the ability of low-income families to afford higher education.
"Unless we can address some of our fiscal problems in a better way than we're doing right now, then funding for education, health care, all the things we really value, is going to continue to get squeezed," she said.
Simon helped served lunch at Illinois State's Watterson Dining Commons, to spotlight the importance of campus work jobs to help pay for education.
On a state level, Simon is trying to improve accessibility of Monetary Award Program grants.
"We're working on better ways to prioritize student aid within the aid that we give, so that hopefully we can target it a little better and get better results out of the MAP grants," she said.
The grants are currently awarded on a first-come, first-served basis, and Simon said the grants only reach about half of eligible students. She is on the MAP Eligibility Task Force, working to improve distribution of the grants.
Simon is also suggesting the creation of College Choice Reports, which would give students specified university cost information online before they apply.
"That will tell students when they're looking for schools how much the tuition is going to be, the programs available for study, and the rate of success and graduation," she said.
She is also supportive of making the American Opportunity Tax Credit permanent, which can help middle and low income tax filers save up to $10,000 over four years of college.
According to ISU officials, 40 percent of the university's students graduate without debt, and the 60 percent with debt graduate owing about $22,000, which is less than the state average.