On April 12, five Augustana College students, accompanied by Kai Swanson, Special Assistant to the President, attended Student Lobby Day in Springfield, Illinois.
The Monetary Award Program (MAP), is the primary means of supporting students in financial need who are seeking higher education.
Over the past couple of years, the MAP grant and whether or not it’s a program worth keeping has been in question. Accompanied by Kai Swanson, five Augustana students defended their opinion that the grant is worth keeping because it allows students in financial need an opportunity to receive higher education.
Swanson said, “Every year, the Federation of Independent Illinois Colleges and Universities hosts what it calls the Student Lobby Day in Springfield. The federation is mostly private colleges, but we work very closely with public universities and we advocate for robust, or at least minimal, government support of higher education in Illinois.”
However, according to Swanson, “For the last three years Illinois was in this budget stalemate… and they couldn’t arrive at a budget agreement, and one of the big casualties of that was higher education, especially this MAP grant program.”
So, every year, Swanson takes five students (enough to fit in a rented college minivan), to speak to Illinois Senators and Representatives on these financial issues. This year, specifically, students addressed MAP grants.
“What I’ve found is when our students do the talking in the first person, it’s one-thousand times more effective than if there’s somebody like me, telling these lawmakers what they already know,” Swanson said. “When it comes to advocacy, people don’t remember facts and figures, they remember stories.”
Senior Rachael Meadors was among the students who attended the event. “To me, MAP means an opportunity for really great students to be able to make higher education a reality,” Meadors said. “The day was uplifting and thought-provoking. We basically spent the day going around different senators and representatives offices and telling them about how we have benefited from MAP grants and why they should continue to support it. The reps we talked to were on board with what we were saying and very supportive. We were also able to touch on other topics such as public service loan forgiveness, and support for recipients of DACA.”
Though President Bahls was not present at the event, he will be going to Springfield next week as a chairman of the board of the Federation of Independent Illinois Colleges and Universities to speak with elected officials and the governor. While he is there, he aspires to accomplish several things such as securing funding for the MAP grant for next year and the year following, ensuring that the state keeps tough Title IX protections, and discussing adequate funding for the state crime lab so that rape kits and other evidence can be processed more quickly.
“About thirty percent of our students receive the MAP grant,” Bahls said. “It is a grant of $4,500, depending upon the year, that enables mid income and lower income students to attend Augustana College. So it has a huge impact on Augustana—most of that 30% wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the MAP program.”
However, in the past, the state has failed to fund promised MAP grants. In this situation, Bahls said, “If we admit a student and they qualify for the grant, we’ll make sure that if they don’t get it from the state, they’ll get it from us. But we can only do that for so long, because there’s only so much money here, and doing that causes us to slow down on maintenance of our buildings and so on.”
Fortunately, Bahls is confident that the MAP program will be continued.