Deserving end for tuition waiver program
SouthtownStar editorial May 25, 2012 9:32PM
Updated: July 3, 2012 10:39AM
The General Assembly’s ethically bankrupt college scholarship program has died, and it’s about time. It should’ve been abandoned years ago.
The legislators were shocked, shocked, we tell you, at the growing controversy and opposition to a program designed to help young people pursue their college dreams. How could anyone think lawmakers had anything but the students’ best interests at heart?
But even a public body as insular and self-centered as the Illinois Legislature could not, in the end, claim the program was honorable and sustain a straight face. It was mired in too much favoritism, conflicts of interest and political profit-taking.
As with all such political messes, there are more losers than winners. Among the losers are the legislators themselves. Allowing them to dispense annual tuition waivers was an ethical booby trap but one that gave them a bit more clout and made them feel a little more important. They set up barriers to having the program investigated and ignored ethical lapses for decades.
The booby-trap wire eventually was tripped and went boom.
Some undeserved losers are the teens without any political pull who won’t get the waivers. Of course, too many didn’t get them anyway, bypassed in favor of kids of legislators’ friends and political allies and donors.
But the fuss over these legislative waivers detracted from a larger issue. They constituted only 3.5 percent of the $415 million in waivers offered by state universities, most of which go to free tuition for faculty relatives and university employees. Nice perk, but is it fair to taxpayers?
Because of soaring college costs, more Illinois’ students are piling up debt they will struggle to pay for years. For students and their parents in financial need, this is a particularly difficult time. Illinois’ Monetary Award Program is the primary source of need-based financial aid, but its funds ran dry March 13.
Legislators should’ve worried more about those teens rather than their privilege.