It is important to aim high when shooting for a specific goal. When I read that in 2008, Illinois committed to making sure that 60% of our work-force holds a college degree by the year 2025, I couldn’t help but scratch my head. This begs the question of how we as a state could have been so optimistic about our higher educational goals, and now find ourselves, just a handful of years later, gridlocked in one of the biggest budget crisis in recent history.
Upon further research I found that Illinois was once the national leader on higher education accessibility and affordability. We led the country in need-based aid and made it possible regardless of income, to receive quality higher education. This would explain why the state would propose such an inspiring goal. What went wrong? The recession certainly hindered the state’s plans and as a result created steady increases of tuition at four year institutions over the last ten years. Our tuition rates are 40% higher than the national average. Worst of all, as the tuition rates hike up, the amount of student aid offered dwindles or in some cases completely vanish. As a college student I am extremely concerned about the outcome of the stalemate that the state is currently in.
The vast majority of the blame is being placed on Governor Bruce Rauner, but we seem to overlook House Speaker Michael Madigan, who is heavily involved in the budget approval. Governor Ruaner’s 2015-2016 budget plan includes a 387 million dollars cut on higher education spending. House speaker Madigan presented the democratic budget plan which would result in a 4 billion dollar unbalanced budget, meaning we allocated even more debt into the deficit. Rauner and Madigan have been going head to head and have been vetoing each other’s proposals link. Since this is an election year and both partie’s budget will ultimately rely on a state tax increase, both men’s tactics are to stall in order not to risk losing support by lobbying for a state tax increase. What they fail to realize is that they are making us, the college students, collateral damage in their childish standoff.
Ruaner’s education budget cut translates to a 30 percent deficit of the operating budget of Illinois public universities. With legislators not being able to come to terms with a viable budget solution, the state has been without a budget since July of last year. One of the ways that this has hit close to home is in the lack of the Monetary Award Program (MAP) grant, at UIC and all other Illinois universities. There is a large student population that depend on the MAP grant. This grant was essential in granting me a chance at a higher education. Without it I found myself having to get a second job over the summer just to be able to cover the cost of tuition. I know a couple of students who had to postpone enrolling because of the higher out of pocket costs. Perhaps the most visible consequence of the budget stalemate is the impending shutdown of Chicago State University. They cancelled their spring break in order to finish the semester early and they also bumped up their graduation ceremonies by two weeks because they estimate that they will be completely out of money by the end of March. I will be the first to say that the amount of stress that one carries as a college student is already immense, to tack on a high stakes situation like this is really unfair. Something must be done and action must be taken.
On April 1st, the #ShutDownChi rally was held by Teachers for Social Justice, along with students, teachers, staff, and families at the UIC quad. A rather large group formed and many of them displayed signs and positive attitudes as they marched down to the Thompson Center in downtown Chicago. There they joined surrounding universities in an effort to support higher education funding. Events like this one are happening all around the city in many different campuses. The outreach is there, beckoning for us to hold a conversation with one another. We are all in this together and we should make an effort to not ignore or be complaisant to issues that affect our future and that of our future generation. We must go out and vote and let our voices be heard, because we sure as hell are worth the damn investment.