The Unjust Burden of Cuts to Low-Income Tuition Grant Programs – Memo

Date: 15 September 2019

To: John Smithson

From: XYZ

RE: The Unjust Burden of Cuts to Low-Income Tuition Grant Programs

The primary objective of this memorandum is to highlight the plight of lower-income students bearing the unjust burden of pursuing higher education without a grant. Typically, college grants are offered to eligible candidates as a form of financial assistance and do not require repayment. Nevertheless, fiscal deadlocks such as those witnessed in both houses of the Illinois General Assembly have recently taken a toll on university programs and impacted heavily on populations from lower socio-economic backgrounds.

Issue Represented in the Case

 Sarah Brown’s case study investigates the infamous “Illinois Budget Impasse” and the subsequent air of uncertainty it caused for public colleges. The quest for expansion and growth in the American higher education structure has, over the past century, seen the ceding of considerable power to states regarding their responsibility in various levels of education (Bastedo, Altbach, & Gumport, 2016, p. 114). It is this arrangement that resulted in grueling months of adversity for public colleges in the State of Illinois. A stalemate between Democratic and Republican lawmakers since July 1, 2015, led to bitter disagreements between the two long-term adversaries that resulted in GOP Governor Bruce Rauner refusing to approve any budget that did not display a level of austerity. The higher education sector was hit hard by these spending cuts and had to endure extended periods without state funding.  Most colleges had to adjust to these emerging set of circumstances, discontinuing their support for low-income grant tuition programs such as the Monetary Award Program (MAP) which was previously funded by the state.

Why Cuts to Low-Income Tuition Grants Is an Issue

            Cuts on low-income tuition grants often mean that collages are now forced to shoulder this burden. The main reason for this unique measure is often because a large majority of these students have exceptional academic credentials and seen as an asset for the institutions. However, colleges usually operated on a tight budget. Many of those eligible for financial aid end up missing out which now places the burden of paying for their tuition expenses squarely on their shoulders. Students from low-income families are therefore more likely to seek loans and consequently sink in debt while attempting to foot college-related expense.

 The alarming college dropout rate in the State of Illinois is also as a result of the cuts to low-income tuition grants. Stopgap measures were initially inaugurated by the state as a measure that aimed to provide temporary relief for students who previously received the Monetary Award Program (MAP) grants. Nevertheless, this funding was nowhere near the amount collages were used to receiving. Lower-income students now had to grapple with an ever-rising tuition fee in addition to exorbitant boarding expenses. Dropping out thus became inevitable with many opting to seek gainful employment as a way of making ends meet.

A Critique of the Campus Response to the Issue

 In the wake of the budget stalemate in the State of Illinois, campuses became proactive and made difficult decisions that would make it possible for them to function in the prevailing conditions. Community colleges often operate on a limited budget and it is, therefore, reasonable that most of them discontinued their low-income grant programs. The state is usually responsible for funding such programs, but the absence of this financial support meant that low-income students would inevitably drop out.

            It is also commendable that colleges such as the University of Illinois weathered this financial storm by developing systems that would serve them in the event of such an eventuality. The university ensured that it developed a close relationship with benefactors in the education sector as a contingency measure. In particular, Urbana-Champaign and the University of Illinois at Chicago campuses had developed an elaborate system of multiple funding sources which kept them afloat (Brown, 2017). Similarly, Kankakee had to resort to extraordinary measures to keep low-income students in school by closing shuttered centers and instituting staff furloughs before channeling these funds to educational activities.

 Recommendations

 Universities need to acknowledge the active role they play in the lives of needy students and the effects of legislative dysfunctions on their education. Organizational learning requires making sense of complex systems and models to create value (Bolman & Deal, 2013, p. 32). The university system must, therefore, reexamine the relationship they have with the state. A viable recommendation to this end is an improved and clear university-legislative relationship. By so doing, colleges will always be assured of state-funding for low-income tuition grant programs, avoiding shutdowns.

 Passing policy that assures eligible low-income students of tuition grants is a feasible option. Universities are expected to demonstrate a level of faculty involvement in various aspects of university life (Lombardi, 2013, p. 156). Low-income tuition grants such as the Monetary Award Program (MAP) target eligible candidates demonstrating financial necessity based on information provided regarding their socio-economic background. These grants go to various mandatory college fees and tuition fees. Additionally, some may even go as far as covering books and housing which are paid directly to the college during enrolment.  The creation of performance goals is also an important part of instituting lasting change. Critical areas such as student retention and graduation would make certain that faculty members are involved in such matters, dedicating their lives towards this particular objective. Moreover, they would now have an opportunity to focus on recruiting students from underrepresented populations while limiting future tuition increases.

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