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Lt. Gov. talks college affordability, funding 

 
McDonough County Voice
October 19, 2012
By Jackie Smith

Macomb, Ill. -- Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon spoke frankly Thursday of the state's tardiness in delivering funds due this term to public colleges following a brief visit with students and the press at Western Illinois University's Stipes Hall.

WIU is still waiting on $5.2 million in Monetary Award Program grant funding for this term — a delay in reimbursements and payment affecting between 3,200 and 3,300 students. Simon said the state "undoubtedly" has a problem with late payments, and that it's something she thinks officials are being more honest about.

"Maybe it's just that we've run out of smoke and mirrors. We're doing a better job about realizing our budgetary challenges, which doesn't mean we've gotten to a solution yet," she said. "But it means that we're closer, and I'm hopeful that after November, when maybe folks have a little bit more gumption, that we'll be able to solve some of those problems and move closer to paying those bills on time."

MAP funding was just one of several topics brought center stage Thursday when the lieutenant governor met with two students at the College of Business and Technology Advising Center. The main focus: Reforms to stabilize costs "with a particular eye toward affordability."

WIU students Jessica Toops and Sam Crunkilton greeted Simon and shared their experiences with the Federal Work Study Program and methods of paying for their education.

Toops, an Honors undergraduate who works in the advising center, said she doesn't qualify for financial aid, leaving her to pay for schooling with outside scholarships, student loans and out of pocket.

Crunkilton, an accountancy graduate student, worked in the advising center for two years as an undergraduate. On Thursday, she said she's fortunate that her parents financially put her through school, but that she has friends who weren't as lucky.

Thursday's visit is also apart of a larger, ongoing effort to stop by all of Illinois' public colleges and universities. Simon said she has already been to all of the state's community colleges and is currently making her way through its 12 four-year institutions.

Both Toops and Crunkilton said Simon's visiting students like them is a positive effort.

Crunkilton said she thought speaking with those who are most impacted by college costs is "the best way to get the most ideal solution" to the problem.
"She's coming and talking to individual students rather than just looking at university students as a blanket group," Toops said, "and I think that's a good way for her to learn."

Simon said she's been specifically looking at the state's responsibility and how it can increase its work-age population with a college degree, as well as methods of cost reform on a collaborative federal, state and school level basis.

Particularly, Simon said state officials are looking at MAP grant eligibility. She cited the grant program's former impact in covering of 100 percent of students with the required financial need for 100 percent of the costs of college, saying that now, it's about half that.

She also referenced how the MAP's application cut-off date has continued to move up earlier in the year. Now in March, she said an early deadline can sometimes mean grants are going to whoever applies first instead of who needs the funds the most.