ISAC's Mission Statement
Making college accessible and affordable for Illinois students.
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 fifty 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.