SPRINGFIELD — Gov. Pat Quinn spoke before a crowd of Illinois college students Wednesday to promote his plan to double the state's Monetary Award Program funding over the next five years.
Students from across the state gathered outside Quinn's office at the Capitol to rally for the measure, which would provide $50 million to college students with financial need next year.
"Our great institutions of higher learning in Illinois depend on making sure that we have education — not just for the elite who have a whole bunch of money but rather for everybody," Quinn said.
"We have to have a learning society in Illinois. We have not one person to miss. If they have that ability to go to college, we don't want them to be denied that opportunity because of a lack of money," he added.
With the state's temporary income tax increase scheduled to sunset Jan. 1, next year's MAP budget could potentially be cut to $322.8 million, down from $373.2 million in 2014.
Quinn wants to make the 67 percent increase permanent, and put $423.2 million toward the program next year.
More than 140,000 students receive aid under the program, and 21,000 more would get assistance under Quinn's program.
Amanda Kriegl, a senior at Augustana College, said she "absolutely could not" afford to attend the school without state assistance.
"I come from a low-income family, so it's really hard for us to even come up with the funds," Kriegl said. "I'm a first-generation college student, and I'll be graduating in about three weeks. Having the MAP grant really made everything possible."
Aaron Von Qualen, a student trustee at Illinois State University, said state assistance has a big impact on campus.
"Many of our students benefit from state aid," Von Qualen said. "It's something we have to have in order to keep our institution in the positive trajectory that we're going."
But he added that he understands some of the funding challenges facing the state.
"It's a tough time for everybody, but higher education is very important," he said. "More state appropriations would probably lower the cost of education in Illinois and keep those students within our borders."