Pending bill could aid Illinois college students

Kathryn Monroe

Illinois students who maintain a 3.0 grade point average might be eligible for a new scholarship, according to a bill that awaits action in the Illinois State Senate, which must vote before the session ends in three weeks.

Called the Higher Education Scholarship Act, the bill would allow Illinois residents who maintain a B- average to apply the scholarship toward any private or public college or university in the state. The scholarship must be renewed each year and is available to college freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors. Students must demonstrate that they have applied for other grants and scholarships and must be taking enough credits to be able to graduate in four years.

The bill, which was passed in the House last month, would cost the state about $170 million. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Louis Lang, D-Skokie, said the money would come from the increased state budget, which is $12 billion more than two years ago. The scholarship would fully fund tuition and other mandatory fees at public institutions and would award a maximum of $4,700 to students attending private institutions.

Some worry that the scholarship will negatively affect other need-based financial aid scholarships. Rebecca Dixon, associate provost for university enrollment, is concerned that the scholarship would take money away from other programs, such as the Monetary Award Program, which gives money to students who cannot afford college.

“Is this going to be a supplement to the student’s current aid package or is it going to be a replacement?” Dixon said. “I am interested to know how (legislators) will relate, blend and manage the current monetary award program that students get with this new grant.”

Since the scholarship would give money to some students who can already afford college, Dixon also worries that others will be denied the money they need in order to attend college.

“It’s bad social policy,” she said. “When you have limited funds, they should go to the people who are neediest.”

But Lang said this new scholarship will not negatively affect other scholarship programs.

“I have been one of the lead people that have tried to increase need-based scholarship programs, so I would not support this bill if it would hurt those programs,” Lang said.

Lang said he also hopes the bill will keep students in state.

“If we keep more of our best and brightest here, how much better would the state of Illinois be?” he said.