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Education Desk

Education Desk: Robbing Peter To Pay Tuition

Courtesy of Julie Posth

The ongoing budget impasse means that state funding for colleges and universities will run out Dec. 31. While some schools are fronting the money for students who get state assistance, a recent survey found that others are scooping up students' federal financial aid to fill in the gap. It's a little bit like opening your child's birthday card from grandma, and pocketing the cash.

The Illinois Student Assistance Commission -- the agency that administers the need-based Monetary Award Program, known as MAP -- surveyed schools to see whether they're crediting students for MAP grants in hopes that lawmakers will eventually fund it. Most respondents said they did, but 20 percent of those acknowledged withholding money from federal sources like Pell grants.

Unlike MAP, Pell funds can be used for expenses other than tuition and fees -- things like textbooks, room and board, transportation, or food.

Both Pell and MAP are reserved for low-income students, so the loss of these funds leaves their families scrambling. Julie Posth, a single mom who is blind, has burned through her savings and taken out loans trying to get her son John through Bradley University.

"We won't default on them,” she says, “but we're below the poverty line now."

She has an older daughter who began college out-of-state but transferred to an Illinois school in part to be able to use MAP funds. Posth’s daughter graduated in 2015, and meanwhile, her son turned down offers from three out-of-state schools because he was counting on the MAP grant. Now a junior, he has signed for loans and is working two jobs.

"And we know the people making these decisions are not waiting for $5,000 per year of school,” Julie Posth says. “It doesn't change their lives, but it changes mine, and it changes my kids’."

The survey comes with the caveat that only 70 percent of schools responded, and some of those didn't answer questions completely.

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