FREEPORT—With insufficient funds plaguing the State of Illinois Monetary Award Program (MAP), many otherwise eligible Highland Community College students are receiving less financial assistance than in the past.
Preliminary totals for the fall 2012 semester indicated 118 fewer students received MAP funds as part of their financial aid package compared to last fall. “Compared to five years ago, there are 182 fewer students receiving MAP funding at Highland, and the total MAP funding for HCC students dropped by more than $117,000,” said Associate Vice President of Student Services Liz Gerber. “While many of these students receive other forms of financial aid that help cover tuition, it often means that they have less available for books and living expenses.” The spring 2012 session of the Illinois General Assembly addressed the drastic changes to the student assistance program by creating the MAP Eligibility Task Force.
According to the findings of the task force, recipients of MAP grants in 2002 were able to pay the entire tuition and fees portion of their community college education. The same eligible students are now able to fund about half of their expenses. In reviewing recent years, the task force discovered that returning non-traditional students and first-time students unfamiliar with the application process had missed deadlines, which continued to come earlier each year as funds were more quickly depleted, and subsequently were not eligible for MAP grants. Despite annual fluctuations in MAP grant availability, Highland’s recommendation to students is simply to file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) as early as possible. "Students and parents should recognize the importance of applying for financial aid early in the year, especially with regard to MAP grants that have limited funding available," said Kathy Bangasser, director of financial aid. "In the financial aid department at Highland, we suggest that students complete their FAFSA by Valentine's Day to receive the most potential aid." Highland’s Financial Aid Department will be hosting a series of upcoming events to assist current and future students with the financial aid process, including “FAFSA Fridays” throughout February and March, and a FAFSA completion event with Illinois Student Assistance Commission representatives on February 19. More information about these events can be found at highland.edu.
Meanwhile, the MAP Eligibility Task Force continues to examine how to best deliver available funds. The top recommendations by the task force report include making assistance most accessible to low-income, first-generation students, and extending application deadlines for non-traditional and returning students.