Skip to Content Bruce Rauner, Governor, State of Illinois

  • ISAC - 60 Years Serving Students and Families
  • The Illinois State Scholarship
Commission is created. Legislation is passed by the Illinois General Assembly and signed by Governor William Stratton to create the Illinois State Scholarship Commission (ISSC). The purpose of the new agency is to increase access to college for Illinois students by offering scholarships and grants. At the time, only seven people work at ISSC.
  • ISSC awards its first
scholarships.Under the precursor to today’s Illinois State Scholar Program, the first honorary scholarships are awarded to academically talented students.
  • The Illinois Guaranteed Loan
Program is established with ISSC as the guaranty agency. Under the Federal Guaranteed Student Loan Program, ISSC becomes a guarantor, allowing banks and private institutions to provide government subsidized and guaranteed loans to Illinois students. In 1988, the Federal Guaranteed Student Loan Program is renamed the Robert T. Stafford Student Loan program.
  • The first Monetary
Award Program (MAP) Grants are awarded. The first need-based college grant is issued under the new Monetary Award Program (MAP). Since 1980, the state has awarded and the agency has administered more than 4.7 million MAP awards.
  • ISSC begins administering
Dependents Grants. ISSC begins administering Grant Programs for Dependents of Police, Fire and Correctional Officers killed or disabled in the line of duty.
  • Scholarships are awarded
under the National Guard Scholarship Act, which later becomes the Illinois National Guard (ING) Grant Program. The National Guard Scholarship Act provides scholarships to enlisted persons who have served at least one year in the Illinois National
Guard or Naval Militia. This Act, later repealed, is the precursor to the Illinois National Guard (ING) Grant Program for active duty Illinois Army or Air National Guard members.
  • ISSC expands into the student
loan industry with the creation of the Illinois Designated Account Purchase Program (IDAPP). To help ensure access to loans for Illinois students, ISSC expands into other aspects of the student loan industry, becoming a secondary market to purchase both performing and delinquent student loans through its Illinois Designated Account Purchase Program (IDAPP).
  • ISSC becomes a nationwide
student loan guarantor. The State of Illinois repeals the requirement that a borrower be an Illinois resident to be eligible for an ISSC loan guarantee. The agency begins to act as a guarantor on a nationwide basis.
  • ISSC is renamed the Illinois Student
Assistance Commission (ISAC) through legislation intending a broader role for the agency.
  • The Illinois General Assembly creates
the Minority Teachers of Illinois (MTI) Scholarship Program. Administered by ISAC, the program is designed to encourage minority students to enter the field of teaching and teach in schools with at least a 30% minority population.
  • Congress renames the
Stafford Student Loan program the Federal Family Education Loan Program (FFELP).
  • Illinois establishes the Special
Education Teacher Tuition Waiver and the DeBolt Teacher Shortage Scholarship Program. Administered by ISAC, these new gift assistance programs are for students planning to pursue teaching careers, and require a service commitment upon graduation.
  • ISAC begins administering the
federal Robert C. Byrd Honors Scholarship Program; Illinois legislation authorizes ISAC to originate student loans. ISAC is the designated entity in Illinois to administer the federal Robert C. Byrd Honors Scholarship Program, providing scholarships to exceptional high school graduates. This program is terminated by the federal government in FY 2013.
  • Illinois launches the College
Illinois!® 529 Prepaid Tuition Program. Administered by ISAC, the program is designed to offer Illinois families a tax-advantaged method of funding the cost of future college tuition.
  • Launch of ISAC’s College Zone website and the Illinois MENTOR college planning tools; launch of Illinois Teachers and Child Care Providers Loan Repayment Program and the Illinois Future Teacher Corps Program (IFTC). ISAC launches the College Zone website, a toll-free call center, and Illinois MENTOR, its first free and comprehensive online college planning tool for students. This electronic portfolio helps high school students explore careers and colleges and track their progress towards meeting those goals. Illinois MENTOR is the precursor to the What’s Next Illinois website, which will provide
similar tools under a different name, and will ultimately be replaced with the ISAC Student Portal.
The DeBolt Teacher Shortage Scholarship becomes the Illinois Future Teacher Corps Program (IFTC). Funding for IFTC is
ultimately phased over to the Golden Apple Scholars of Illinois program.
  • ISAC creates the Public
Service Division. Later called College Access and Outreach, this division is developed to focus exclusively on efforts to help
low-income and first generation college students navigate their way through the college planning and financial aid process.
  • Launch of the Nurse Educator
Scholarship Program, Nurse Educator Loan Repayment Program, and Veterans' Home Nurse Loan Repayment Program. Administered by ISAC, these programs are designed to reduce the shortage of nurses in Illinois.
  • The Illinois General Assembly
establishes the Golden Apple Scholars of Illinois Program, increasing ISAC’s involvement in the program. This public-private partnership between ISAC and the Golden Apple Foundation identifies talented high school seniors, as well as first and second-year college students (and particularly those from diverse backgrounds) who have the promise and drive to be excellent teachers in high-need schools.
  • ISAC receives a federal
College Access Challenge Grant and launches the ISACorps. ISAC is selected by then Governor Blagojevich to be the state administering agency for a federal College Access Challenge Grant. The grant serves as the catalyst for a significant
expansion of ISAC’s college access and outreach programs and services and the launch of the ISACorps—a talented group of
recent college graduates who are trained to serve as near-peer mentors to high school students, helping students and their families navigate the process of applying to and entering college.
  • The federal government
terminates the Federal Family Education Loan Program (FFELP). The passage of the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act in March 2010 ends the program and moves all future student loans into the Direct Loan Program, effective July 2010. ISAC
embarks on a long term multi-year strategic plan to wind down the FFEL Program efficiently and responsibly to ensure the integrity of all borrower loan balances and information.
  • Launch of College Changes Everything®; appointment of new ISAC Commission. Pursuant to a Lumina Grant, ISAC’s Outreach division hosts
the first College Changes Everything® Conference, which becomes the state’s premier annual higher education
conference focused on improving efforts to make college possible for all Illinois students. With the success of the first
conference as a catalyst, ISAC initiates the College Changes Everything® movement, a college access movement that
recognizes that college can be a life changing experience not only for students, but also for families and communities.
The movement begins to develop partnerships across the state and with neighboring states to share information,
stories and advocacy about how college can change lives. Concerns about the stability of the College Illinois!® Prepaid
Tuition Program and about investment decisions related to the Prepaid Tuition Fund lead Governor Quinn to appoint a
new ISAC Commission Board. The board hires a new Chief Investment Officer and a new Executive Director for ISAC.
  • Launch of GAP Access.
MAP is the first grant program to be migrated to the Gift Assistance Program Access (GAP Access), a new service-oriented technology platform developed at ISAC to manage all of ISAC’s scholarships and grants.
  • Launch of the Illinois
60 x 2025 Network. Designed to facilitate the state’s goal to increase the proportion of adults in Illinois with high quality degrees and credentials to 60% by the year 2025, ISAC partners with Advance Illinois and the Education Systems Center at Northern Illinois University to create the Illinois 60 x 2025 Network, a community of practice to help local and regional teams accelerate progress toward the 60% by 2025 goal.
  • ISAC is the first government
agency ever to receive the CIO’s Most Effective IT Team Award. The award is given to three Chicagoland organizations annually from two of the leading professional associations, the Society for Information Management (SIM) – Chicago and
the Association of Information Technology Professionals (AITP) – Chicago.
  • ISAC launches College Changes
Everything® Month; ISAC Student Portal wins 2016 Digital Government Achievement Award. With the U.S. Department of Education’s change to early FAFSA (making the Free Application for Federal Student Aid available in October rather than January), Governor Rauner proclaims October as College Changes Everything® Month, urging Illinoisans to take advantage of support from ISAC and statewide partners to complete college and financial aid applications. The ISAC Student Portal receives a 2016 Digital Government Achievement Award from the Center for Digital Government.
  • With the award of a seven-year
GEAR UP grant, ISAC launches Illinois GEAR UP. Through a federal discretionary grant program designed to increase the number of low income students who are prepared to enter and succeed in postsecondary education, ISAC and its program partners are using a cohort model designed to provide direct services to approximately 30,500 students in 25 middle schools and 25 high schools across Illinois over a seven-year period.

About ISAC

ISAC's Mission Statement

Making college accessible and affordable for Illinois students.

ISAC’s Big Goal

Increase the proportion of Illinois adults with a postsecondary credential to 60% by 2025.

Introduction

In 1957, state lawmakers created the Illinois Student Assistance Commission (ISAC) to ensure that financial considerations did not prevent Illinois students from realizing their postsecondary educational goals. Since then, the number of students we assist and the number of programs we administer have increased steadily, as has the scope of the services provided to support those programs. At every stage of the financial aid process, ISAC is there, acting as a centralized source of information and guidance and offering a comprehensive array of programs and services. Our priority has remained constant. Today, as in 1957, that priority continues to be making postsecondary education accessible and affordable for the students and families of Illinois.

Taking our mission one step further, ISAC has adopted the nationwide goal in support of college completion  - to help Illinois increase to 60% the proportion of adults with a postsecondary credential by 2025.  In conjunction, the agency has adapted the nationwide goal to one that is more specific and applicable to one of the major groups of students we serve – to help Illinois increase to at least 45% the postsecondary completion rate of low-income students. Achieving this goal involves many approaches that include improving the high school to college transition for students in need, providing support to students in college or returning to college, helping families pay for college, building external support for the goal, and providing high-quality, informed research.

Improving the High School to College Transition for Students in Need and Providing Support to Students in College or Returning to College

ISAC's college access and outreach activities are focused on helping families navigate the numerous steps involved in career and college planning as well as finding, applying to and paying for college. These activities provide tremendous support to improving the high school to college transition for students in need.

One such example is the ISACorps.  The Corps is comprised of recent college graduates who are stationed in each community college district across the state of Illinois and provide high-quality and personal pre-college counseling services for low-income, first-generation students.  In addition, Corps members build and enhance ISAC’s partnerships with local schools, businesses and nonprofit community organizations to deliver free career and college planning and preparation services to students from families with no prior college-going experience.

The agency has direct contact with families through many other means as well.  Hundreds of thousands of students, parents and other clients are assisted each year through the agency's various customer support units, college fairs, workshops, outreach events and information materials. The ISAC Call Center provides an opportunity for callers – regardless of their stage in the college process – to have one-on-one conversations with our representatives, individuals who are experienced in all areas of planning and paying for college.  Both English- and Spanish-speaking counselors staff the toll-free phone lines.  A dedicated e-mail service answers questions from those who find it more convenient to communicate via electronic avenues.

Increasingly, families are turning to the Internet to obtain the information they need. Through our websites, ISAC advises students about careers, colleges, admissions and what financial aid programs are available and how to apply for them. Users can access information about individual Illinois colleges and universities, and use an EFC Calculator that will project how much aid they are potentially eligible to receive based on the college in which they enroll.  Families with younger children can also obtain information on college costs, and guidance on how much they should be saving to meet those costs. There are over 2 million visits to the agency’s websites each year.

Helping Families Pay for College

Few states offer as comprehensive an array of programs to help students and families pay for college as does Illinois, through ISAC. Among those programs are state grants and scholarships, student loan repayment programs, and a prepaid tuition program.  If the family or student needs to borrow loans, counseling services are offered in order to ensure borrowers are aware of their student loan repayment options.

Grants and Scholarships

ISAC offers Illinois residents a variety of grant and scholarship programs, eligibility for which is based on factors such as financial need, academic achievement, chosen field of study, or military service. The cornerstone of these programs is ISAC's need-based Monetary Award Program (MAP).

MAP is the fourth largest program of its kind in the country, annually awarding over $400 million in grants to approximately 145,000 undergraduates who demonstrate financial need for such assistance. Grants awarded through MAP cover tuition and mandatory fees.

The remaining gift aid programs offered by ISAC are more targeted in nature. They range in focus from those that recognize academic achievement or chosen field of study/profession to those that reward military service. Collectively, these targeted scholarship and grant programs award millions in gift aid to qualified applicants each year.

The number of scholarships and grants made through programs administered by ISAC, as well as the individual dollar amount awarded, is subject to sufficient annual appropriations by the Illinois General Assembly and the Governor.

Student Loan Repayment/Forgiveness Programs

For students who found it necessary to borrow to help pay for college expenses, ISAC offers several state and federally-funded programs to assist borrowers with the repayment of their student loans.

Prepaid Tuition Program

An increasing number of families are planning ahead to pay for college costs. Fortunately, ISAC offers an affordable, flexible and tax-advantaged method of paying for college education without the risk of stock market fluctuations. The College Illinois!® Prepaid Tuition Program allows families to prepay or "lock in" future tuition and mandatory fee costs for Illinois community colleges and universities at rates set in the present. Participants can choose from a variety of prepaid contracts that allow for either lump-sum purchases or installment payments over an extended period of time.

ISAC’s Websites, Electronic Processing and Delivery

Technology is vital to ISAC's efforts to simplify the financial aid delivery process, and ultimately, better serve students.  Several ISAC programs have online applications, thereby eliminating any questions as to whether an application has been received or a deadline date met. Through ISAC’s websites, borrowers have access to debt counseling, and can use a repayment calculator that projects future monthly payments. Under the Commission's largest source of financial aid, Monetary Award Program grants, institutions participate in an electronic delivery process. For students, the benefits of technology are clear - the process is less confusing and the financial aid they need to finance their education can be processed on a more timely basis.

Default Prevention Counseling and Student Loan Servicing

ISAC counsels students and parents to ensure that borrowers are aware of their rights and responsibilities and the potential consequences of defaulting on their educational loans. In addition, ISAC’s secondary market, the Illinois Designated Account Purchase Program (IDAPP), maintains a portfolio of educational loans. These loans are serviced by trained loan specialists whose work is central to the Commission's default prevention efforts. Borrowers have an incentive to keep their accounts in good standing; those who consistently make timely payments or live and work in Illinois may receive a reduced interest rate on their loan.

Training and Technical Assistance

The Commission's institutional partners in the delivery of financial aid include postsecondary institutions, high schools, and community-based organizations. To support them, ISAC provides programs of staff development, on-site technical assistance, training and informational seminars, program information, guidelines and procedures, and a variety brochures and electronic messages and newsletters. Our institutional clients rely heavily upon us for the most current information on programs and operations, as we rely on them for suggestions and guidance regarding how the delivery of financial aid can be improved.  This partnership is key to helping families pay for college.

Oversight and Compliance

At both the state and federal level, ISAC has an obligation to help preserve the integrity of the programs it administers. The training and informational sessions we conduct are aimed at facilitating client compliance with all applicable state and federal laws and regulations, as are the brochures, newsletters and other written materials we disseminate. To ensure such compliance, ISAC's institutional audit staff conducts periodic program reviews of schools. The information shared during these reviews benefits both ISAC and the client. Ultimately, however, it is the student who benefits most, through the improved management and delivery of available financial aid dollars.

Building External Support

ISAC carries the message of advocacy for the completion goal to higher education financing councils, commissions, networks, and initiatives.  Our legislative and outreach efforts are at the forefront of getting the word out to policy and decision makers. ISAC's partnerships with other higher education advocates are the framework of our commitment to provide the best possible programs and services for the families of Illinois.

Providing High Quality, Informed Research

ISAC’s commitment to providing high-quality, informed research continues to set the foundation for policy and decision making.  With an eye on the completion goal and a renewed sense of purpose, a new public access database has been developed while the state’s longitudinal data system is under development.  This database serves as a tool in measuring progress toward the completion goal.

Our Commitment to Students

For over sixty years, students have been the number one priority at ISAC. Time has not altered or obscured our focus, but sharpened it. Our steadfast commitment to the college completion goal is reflected in our mission of making college accessible and affordable for Illinois students.