SPRINGFIELD — There was much ado about higher education in the Illinois Capitol Thursday, as lawmakers discussed funding increases for higher education, Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed a bill to strengthen a financial aid program and higher education advocates rallied on the Capitol rotunda.
Pritzker signed House Bill 2505, allowing universities to retain unused funding for the Aspirational Institutional Match Helping Illinois Grow Higher Education, or AIM HIGH, program. The program helps students who meet income and performance requirement obtain financial aid at state universities.
Pritzker signed the bill, which was passed during the previous General Assembly, at Southeast High School in Springfield.
“After many years of a declining percentage of Illinois students choosing to stay in state, AIM HIGH is helping us change that dynamic, making it more affordable for students and their families to choose to stay here,” Pritzker said in remarks released by his office after the signing.
AIM HIGH funding, which was established in a pilot program by the previous General Assembly, is increased by 40 percent in Pritzker’s budget proposal for fiscal year 2020.
At the Capitol, lawmakers and representatives of the advocacy groups the Healthy Minds and Healthy Lives Coalition, the Illinois Apprenticeship Collaborative and Young Invincibles lobbied for increased investment and a series of education-related bills.
First on the list was increased Monetary Award Program funding, which Pritzker has prioritized in his budget as well.
“In addition to increasing AIM HIGH funding, my budget also includes expands MAP Grants so that 16,000 more students will get scholarships to go to college in Illinois,” he said.
The group also advocated for Cicero Democratic Rep. Lisa Hernandez’s House Bill 2691, which provides state financial aid to more students in Illinois, including undocumented students and transgender students who cannot register for selective service.
Rep. Emmanuel “Chris” Welch, D-Hillside, spoke of the need for mental health care availability for college students and advocated for his House Bill 2152. The bill would increase mental health awareness and expand resources for on- and off-campus services at public college and universities
State Sen. Ann Gillespie, D-Arlington Heights, summarized her Senate Bill 2024, which aims to increase apprenticeship program accessibility by creating a report on existing apprenticeships and potential funding and expansion.
A Senate appropriations committee also heard testimony from representatives of the University of Illinois System and the Illinois Community College Board, both of which requested substantial funding increases.