Illinois General Assembly Legislative Scholarship and NEIU – A Troubling Partnership


Published: Monday, February 6, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, February 7, 2012 03:02

NEIU is among a few Illinois public universities that participate in the Illinois General Assembly Legislative Scholarship Program, brought to you by the state of Illinois. This has been going on since 2003, yet when I asked around the various financial aid departments of NEIU, virtually no one knew this program existed. Upon further research, some troubling information was found about this scholarship.
Unlike most scholarships, neither NEIU nor the State Board of Education has any applications for this scholarship. The mechanism for how this scholarship works is that a student must first somehow find out about this scholarship, then contact his or her local state Senator or state Representative about being considered for the scholarship. From there the screening process is entirely up to the Senator or Representative. They effectively get to nominate whomever they like based on any criteria they like for this scholarship. Senators and Representatives can pick two students to go to a selected school for a full four- year ride, or 4 students for two years or 8 students for a single year each. All expenses paid. There are a couple caveats, one being the state Reps and Senators should only select students from within their district, and second, the scholarship is intended to be awarded to worthy students based on academic merit and need.
As great of an idea as this program sounds there have been many complaints about this program. The biggest one being that the “scholarship” is erroneously named, as it is a tuition waiver, not an actual scholarship. The state doesn’t allocate financial backing, nor do they actually pay the tuition for the scholarship to the universities who participate; the tuition is simply waived, leaving the school with no compensation and yet another hole in their budget to fill. I was curious about this aspect and visited NEIU’s financial aid director, Michelle Morrow about her department’s experience with the Ilinois General Assembly Legislative Scholarship. She had no comment about this specific scholarship, however, the unusual circumstances of the application process and the relatively ambiguous selection process seemed a mystery to every person I approached about it.
The second most troubling aspect of this “scholarship” is that it seems like there are really no restrictions over whom the Representatives and Senators of Illinois can award this fiscally unsound tuition waiver to. Since 2010 a few senators have been caught going outside their districts and awarding these scholarships to students outside their domain, and in other cases awarding the free tuition to campaign contributors and their families. A quick Google search can show you ample examples of Senators abusing their rights by assigning scholarships to friends, families and contributors. In some cases the scholarships even seem to have been awarded to the family members of other elected officials.
This scholarship had been created with the best of intentions for students who simply cannot afford a college education. That is a noble idea, but if there is no regulation over who receives the scholarship, how can we be sure those that truly need it are first in line, or even really considered? Politicians like Michael Madigan are busy forcing universities to admit relatives of his supporters for free, while truly needy and deserving students probably don’t even know that this opportunity exists. If the scholarship goes to whomever the politicians themselves deem fit, then the burden of offsetting these lost tuition dollars shift to the school itself and ultimately, other students at that school. This is a clear case of robbing universities to provide perks to whomever scratched the back of the Legislative body most recently, regardless of academic aptitude, or lack thereof.