ROSELAND — Chicago State University student Alejandra Le, 21, is struggling to stay in school this semester after key financial aid she relied on was withheld amid the Illinois budget crisis.
Le is working four jobs to make up for the money she will not receive from the state Monetary Awards Program, which can't issue the aid without a state budget.
But if she doesn't get all of her aid next year, she thinks she'll drop out.
“I probably won’t be able to afford it next semester” if she doesn't get the $1,600 to $1,800 she normally gets from state MAP grants, she said.
While Le and other students struggle to afford to stay in school with reduced financial aid, Chicago State — like all of the state's public universities — is straining to stay open without a state budget. The university has found itself in this predicament since Democratic leaders and Gov. Bruce Rauner first started the budget standoff last year. As an effort to keep payroll going and administrative tasks taken care of, universities have had to limit spending and cut programs. Chicago State is barely surviving and has had to take it a step further.
“We have gone through a series of layoffs, suspended most travel, frozen administrator salaries and continue to undertake several cost-cutting measures in an effort to complete the semester with as little harm as possible to core student services,” said university spokesman Tom Wogan.
The idea of borrowing to keep the doors open is an option worth exploring, he said.
“Borrowing is not ideal but this is an emergency situation,” Wogan said, adding that Chicago State would need the Illinois State legislature to authorize the borrowing.
Wogan said that without operating funds, the university is “struggling” just to finish out the semester. They don’t know what next year will look like.
“These are uncharted waters and there is a great deal of uncertainty about what happens if the state does not act,” he said. “We are turning over every stone and looking for every solution possible to finish the semester.”
But other students are struggling to pay for state financial aid that can't be provided without a budget.
Le, a psychology major and Spanish minor, said her experience has been a good one at Chicago State because they work with students and it’s affordable, something she says she won’t be able to find at a private institution. Education is a “right” for everyone, she believes, and said it would be “unfair” if the university has to close or if students have to drop out because they can't get the aid they need to continue.
Chicago State Student Government President Paris Griffin, 24, commutes to the university from Englewood. Her on-campus position allows her to see firsthand how students would be impacted if the budget crisis isn’t solved before next school year.
“Chicago State has been a saving grace for many of us,” said the public relations major. “Many of our students are transfer students, many of our students are parents, many of our students work jobs and they really have benefited from the [university].”
Griffin transferred from Southern Illinois University in Carbondale and said that Chicago State University has become home and everyone is like family. She recognizes that she has had more opportunities at the university than she would have had if she stayed at SIUC.
“My university has provided me with many opportunities such as scholarships, financial aid, tutoring assistance,” Griffin said. “It’s great place to grow as a leader. So if our university were to close it would definitely be very detrimental for the students who really depend on our university to help them provide a better life for their families.”
At a press conference on the state’s pension, Rauner commented on the education budget crisis Chicago State is experiencing.
“I care very much about the students at Chicago State,” he said “They are being failed by Chicago State University.” He said the university’s faculty is “not delivering.”
“We’re not gonna tolerate that kind of failure. I am sick and tired of this failure and excuses for it. Maybe what we should do is take the money we’ve been sending to a failed institution and give it to the kids and let them choose their school. Maybe that’d be a smarter way to do it,” the governor said.
When reporters noted that Chicago State hasn’t received any state appropriations since July, Rauner responded by saying the institution has been “abusing taxpayer dollars, wasting money and doing self-dealing for years. … They’ve been throwing money down the toilet.”
Rauner also claims that Chicago State has the "widest achievement gap" between white and African-American students “of any college" and "that is wrong.”
"The facts simply don't match the governor's rhetoric," said Wogan. "CSU issues on average 800 degrees annually, graduates one out of two African Americans receiving a bachelor’s degree from a public university in Chicago and 1 out of 6 in Illinois."
He said the governor is more than welcome to visit their campus and see for himself the educational impact the institution's faculty and staff are having on students.
Griffin said that students have started a movement called “Budget or Else,” which can be found on Facebook and Twitter.
“We are working hard every day to make sure we continue to make our presence known, to make sure our community continues to hear our story, and to make sure people understand how important our university is to us,” she said.
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