05/08/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Illinois Financial Aid Drying Up Quickly During Budget Crisis

The bleak economic picture in Illinois has more college students racing for financial aid from a grant program whose funding may not hold up.

Over 180,000 students filled out financial aid applications in January and February, a 21 percent increase from the same period last year. Of those, 81,000 were found eligible for Illinois Monetary Award Program (MAP) grants, the Chicago Sun-Times reports--an 18 percent increase over the last year.

MAP funds are distributed on a first-come, first-served basis, reports the Sun-Times. Last year, in a comparatively rosy fiscal situation, the program ran out of money on May 15.

This time around, students seem to understand the urgency. Chicago Public Schools spokeswoman Monique Bond told the Sun-Times that 45% of CPS seniors have already applied for financial aid, more than double the amount that had applied by March of 2009.

At the same time, more families than ever are seeking financial aid, as many middle-class families that once could afford college now cannot.

The run on MAP funds couldn't come at a worse time for the state of Illinois, which is slashing spending across the board. Last year, the legislature didn't pay a cent to the program for second-semester grants, until widespread public outcry led to a last-minute approval of more money. But it certainly seems unlikely that the state will spend more money to cover the rush of new applicants.

Regardless of what happens to MAP, students will be eligible for up to $5,550 of federal Pell grants, thanks to money from the Obama stimulus package.