Expanding Educational Opportunity For Illinois Students: Analyzing House Bill 2691, the RISE Act

Topics: Politics and Legislation

Introduction

Illinois will always be a welcoming state,” Gov. JB Pritzker declared as he signed bill into law at the University of Illinois at Chicago in the face of President Trump’s recent xenophobic policies and ICE raids this June. Sponsored by Rep. Lisa Hernandez, the RISE Act aims to make state higher education financial aid accessible to a wider range of student identities. More liberal states, such as California, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Texas and Washington have already adopted similar laws regarding education.

Background

On June 21st, 2019, Gov. Pritzker signed House Bill 2691 into law and is set to go into effect January 1st, 2020. More commonly known as the RISE (Retaining Illinois Students and Equity) Act, the law will allow an estimated 3,500 students to have access to higher education financial aid. 1,200 of those students immigrated to the US as children. Around 300 are transgender students who did not meet the Federal Selective Service requirements.

The law states that financial aid will be available to students who have been deemed Illinois residents, replacing the prior legislation that refused transgender and undocumented immigrants. Financial aid will not be capped or refused to a student on the basis of their gender identity or citizenship status. Furthermore, students who have used MAP grant funding for 75 credit-hours but have not yet received junior status will still have access to aid.

Prior to the RISE Act, MAP grants were only given to students who met terms and requirements (click here), such as citizenship and complying with federal Selective Service registration requirements. Moreover, citizens who identified as transgender were excluded from applying for MAP grants, unless they disclosed their gender at birth by complying with selective service. The RISE Act will allow citzens who identify as transgender to apply for MAP grants without signing up for selective service. 

MAP Funding

Illinois’ Monetary Award Program (MAP) provides grants that do not need to be repaid students pursuing higher education. The grants are only allowed to be used on tuition and other mandatory fees. Grants are allocated using the MAP formula in which the neediest students are given assistance. 

The law will require either a shifting of existing financial aid among low-income students or call for additional funding in the state’s higher education budget. Based on the estimation of 3,500 additional eligible students, which may be lower than reality [see footnote below], the MAP program would call for an additional $9 million in annually in state revenue. 

Beneficial to Students?

The new less restrictive MAP grant requirements would lower the financial aid caps for each student but cover a wider range of students. Opponents argue that many students already struggle with the limited grants they receive and that it would make it more difficult for the student body as a whole to afford higher education. Proponents for the RISE Act, such as Sen. Omar Aquino who sponsored the bill alongside Rep. Elizabeth Hernandez, believe more equity in higher education financial aid will see a massive return and create a more productive workforce.

Footnote: According to the Student Assistant Commission, data on these various student identities is limited. The estimate of 3,500 could be low for various reasons and the demand for funding the future can not yet be estimated.

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