06/23/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

The MAP to Better College Funding

When I started college eight years ago, the Illinois Monetary Award Program (MAP) grant was my "best friend" (from a financial aid perspective). If I ever got into a jam, I would remind that friend about my low-income status. And just like that, the friend would "help a brotha out".

But now, that best friend needs some help in assisting his other friends.

This week, The Illinois Student Assistance Commission broke the sad news that the MAP grant has no more funds. This comes at a time when more folks are attending college, which in turn makes it more difficult for every student who applies to receive a grant. While there are plans to use state taxes to help fund the program, that might create more problems in the long run. So, how can the MAP overcome this "detour"?

Most people would say that the State Lottery would be a good source for alternative funding. But the Illinois State Lottery already devotes 30% of all proceeds to the K-12 public schools. Therefore, institutions of higher learning would probably benefit more by partnering with retailers who sell lottery tickets. A retailer near a specific college or university could give back to the same students who frequent its establishment. The MAP grant might be smaller in that case, but something would be better than nothing.

But the Lottery can't solve all the problems. What it will take is everyone taking a deeper looking at the true MAP: our state financing system. We don't want our students to be lost because the right path seems so hard to follow.