It was a Tuesday morning–the first sunny one we’d had in weeks. We crammed into a white minivan with three other Lake Forest College students, along with Donald Stanley in the driver’s seat. We were on our way to a protest in the heart of downtown Chicago to meet hundreds of other Illinois college students demanding support for the MAP (Monetary Assistance Program) grant.
We sat behind Parth Tank, a sophomore neuroscience major at Lake Forest College, who was the only recipient of the MAP grant that joined us on the trip. Parth has been living in Woodridge, Illinois for about six years. He works as a teacher’s assistant for Chemistry and does research at the Biolab.
Parth chose to attend Lake Forest College partially because it was affordable. Before he enrolled, he was awarded a MAP grant that covered a large amount of his college expenses. He gets about $5,000 a year from the MAP fund, and as a first-generation American immigrant, that money makes a huge difference.
Parth, like 400 other students at the College, is able to attend this school because of the MAP grant. But that financial security crumbled when he received an alarming email from President Schutt in January.
In the email, President Schutt wrote: “Last year, as you probably know, you were awarded a Monetary Assistance Program (MAP) grant from the State of Illinois to help you pay for your Lake Forest College education. What you might not know – and what you need to realize – is that the State has failed to transfer funds for your grant and grants to thousands of other students at Lake Forest and colleges across Illinois.
”In an interview, President Schutt further described the political standstill in the state capital: “There is a several million dollar shortfall in the state’s budget and the governor and legislators disagree over the best way to deal with that deficit.”
In the midst of this disagreement, the grants promised to hundreds of thousands of students have not been funded. According to President Schutt, some colleges in Illinois asked their students to defer for a semester until funds were sorted out. Young students facing thousands of dollars of debt are considering dropping out or transferring to colleges outside the state.
The protest we attended took place outside Chicago’s Thompson Center, where many ofces of the Illinois state government are housed. It was below freezing with relentless winds, but the crowd was buzzing with the energy of over 200 protesters of all ages and all ideologies, who were all demanding the same thing.
Protesters waved posters with messages like, “Save our Education” and “Illinois Better Have My Money.” Si Se Puede (Spanish for “Yes We Can”) projected through the streets. Students yelled out, “Money doesn’t grow on trees; sign SB2043!,” referring to a bill that Governor Bruce Rauner needed to sign in order to fund the MAP Grant. Rauner did not sign this bill despite the protests.
Parth was among the protesters. He normally has a quiet presence – a calm and go-with-the ow attitude – but at the protest, a voice of urgency emerged.
The protest inspired concern in Parth. He told us he didn’t know much about the MAP grant’s impact on Illinois students before the protest, but now he “[wants]to support it as much as I can. It’s not just for me. Illinois students are in danger.”
Sintayehu Regassa ’17, a politics major at the College, is in a similar situation. He cannot transfer out of Lake Forest and expect to graduate on time. If MAP grants don’t get funded, he will have to take out loans.
Regassa is hopeful, despite his situation. “Politically, it wouldn’t make sense to withhold the budget because it would affect so many families,” he said. “When families get hurt, they will respond in a different way when it comes to the vote. This is a momentary political maneuver.”
President Schutt also maintains “cautious optimism,” he said. “The Republican governor and the Democratic legislator have different views on how to resolve the state’s budget situation, but I believe they’re all operating in good faith,” Schutt said. “I just don’t want our students, or college students in Illinois generally, to be the victims of that disagreement.”
Parth told us he is unsure about his future at Lake Forest. He loves the College’s neuroscience department, and dreams of becoming a physician one day, but he worries about the interest and loans he will accumulate in medical school. If MAP grants aren’t funded, he feels he has no other choice than to transfer or drop out.
This possibility has not diminished his love for science and medicine. Parth’s plans may change, but as he said, “my goal stays the same.” No matter the outcome of the MAP issue, Parth refuses to give up on his education and dreams.