Sen. Mike Halpin visits Augustana College in higher education “listening tour”

Illinois Sen. Mike Halpin (D-Rock Island) toured Augustana College and spoke with school officials on Tuesday, his first stop in a two-week listening tour of colleges and universities in the 36th Senate District.

Halpin will visit four-year institutions within his representative district — aiming to help him gauge their needs, priorities and challenges, also forming relationships with school leaders as he embarks his first Senate term as chairman of the Illinois Senate Higher Education Committee. 

“The 36th District has every institution of higher education … three community college districts, three private, four-year institutions and both Western Illinois (University) campuses,” Halpin said. “This is a unique district that has higher education as it’s focus.” 

Living in Rock Island, and having represented the area during his House tenure, were some of the reasons Halpin started his tour at Augie, also noting a “very good” relationship with the college. 

“I think we’re at a unique time in recent Illinois history where we’re really making some good fiscal decisions to the point where we have the opportunity to reinvest in higher education,” he said. “If we’re ready to do that, I want to make sure that we’re actually being responsive to the needs of our colleges and universities.” 

Halpin’s visit began by discussing tuition support, capital projects and budget priorities with Augie president Dr. Andrea Talentino, highlighting Illinois’ investment in Monetary Award Program grants. 

“Education is costly, certainly; it’s important for families to be able to think about ways to make it affordable. The more that we can partner with State grants and loans … the better it can be for the family,” she said. “The MAP grant, for example, is something we’re really excited about. That’s great for students and it’s really helpful for them.” 

MAP grants are open to eligible Illinois residents who attend approved in-state colleges or universities and demonstrate financial need (based on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid). These grants do not need to be repaid and go toward tuition and other mandatory fees. More details about MAP can be found on the Illinois Student Assistance Commission website. 

Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker proposed a $100 million increase in MAP funding for fiscal year 2024—also proposing a 7 percent increase in basic operating funds for public universities and community colleges.

“That actually doesn’t get us back, in real dollars, to where we were 15 years ago on the public university side, so that is a significant conversation happening,” Halpin said of the increase. “If we do things right, I think we’ll be able to make almost every person that wants to go to a community college be able to attend for free.” 

At the statehouse, Halpin hopes to demonstrate the stability MAP grants provide in a larger quest to retain Illinois students after high school and address nationwide dips in undergraduate enrollment.

“So if you want to go to Augustana and may have thought it was out of your price range or something like that, we’re going to give you those resources to be able to go,” he said. “I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve had a student tell me, ‘I would not have gone to college, if not for the MAP grant.’ My philosophy has always been anyone that wants to go to college should be able to and should be able to afford to.” 

Noting some aging Augie facilities, Talentino also spoke to the value of state-backed capital support in higher education. 

“It just really allows us to accelerate some of our priorities, in terms of thinking about how we support our buildings,” she said. 

Aside from funding, Halpin noted a goal to create a long-term system to communicate with Illinois colleges and universities about in-demand jobs using state agencies or resources. He thinks this may help prevent future shortages, allowing lawmakers to address the issue in a less reactionary way. 

Talentino commended this proactive goal, saying Augie is “always looking” to create workforce pipelines for students, particularly in industries facing shortages. 

“We’re super excited to have him (Halpin) leading the (Senate higher education) committee. He’s shown through his career that he’s a great supporter of higher ed.,” she said. 

Following discussions, Halpin toured Augie’s campus — making stops at the Bahls Campus Leadership Center, Hanson Hall, Lindberg Center and the Olin Center before ending with lunch at the Gerber Dining Center. 

Halpin visited Monmouth College after Augie and will visit Western Illinois University’s Macomb campus on Tuesday, April 11, and Knox College in Galesburg on Thursday, April 13. 

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Region: Northern,City: Quad Cities,Schools,Region: QC

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April 4, 2023 at 05:31PM

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