With Funding in Doubt, Gale Scholars Program Faces Uncertain Future

  Aaron Frey
  Wednesday, June 21, 2017 2:16 PM
  Campus News

Galesburg, IL

Without increased levels of state funding or the emergence of an outside funding source, the George Washington Gale Scholars program — a collaborative effort between Carl Sandburg College, Knox College and Galesburg Community Unit School District 205 — faces an uncertain future.

The program typically inducts 15 students each year, but the most recent class, inducted in May, was reduced to 10 members as a direct result of the growing financial challenges it has faced in recent years.

“Our community benefits from the Gale Scholars program on many levels,” program director Steve Cheesman said. “After earning their degrees at Sandburg or Knox, Gale Scholars have gone into many professions, including education and healthcare. They have also gone into business, from executives to entrepreneurs, locally and nationally.”

Gale Scholars is a select program that gives District 205 students a path toward a tuition-free education at Sandburg and Knox. Designated a Best Practice by the Illinois Board Higher Education and the Illinois Association of School Boards, it is designed for first-generation college students who meet income and academic guidelines. This year, three Gale Scholars graduated with associate degrees from Sandburg, and five received bachelor’s degrees from Knox. Since the program was founded in 1996, 38 Gale Scholars have graduated from Knox and 82 from Sandburg.

“The Gale Scholars program represents a very significant financial commitment from all three schools,” Cheesman said. “Along with free tuition through a student’s four years in college, the students receive a total of eight years of intensive academic activities, mentoring and career advising.”

Students in the program have the initial part of their tuition covered through Illinois’ Monetary Award Program (MAP) and federal Pell Grants, with Sandburg and Knox covering the students’ remaining tuition at the respective schools. However, as MAP funding has decreased in recent years, the burden placed on Sandburg and Knox to cover that amount has greatly increased. The last MAP disbursement received by Gale Scholars students at Sandburg — for the 2015 fall semester — was a 48.3 percent decrease from what had been awarded during the 2012-2013 academic year.

“The Gale Scholars program helps exclusively low-income students, and when the state of Illinois fails to fully fund MAP grants, as it has for the past two years, Sandburg and Knox have to make up the difference,” Sandburg President Dr. Lori Sundberg said. “Because Sandburg and Knox are so committed to making this program accessible to students with high achievement and high aspirations, we have been drawing more and more on our own limited resources to cover what the state is not providing these students.”

What had once been a nominal cost of a few hundred dollars for the Carl Sandburg College Foundation to cover the remaining tuition balance has grown to more than $75,000 for the 2017 fiscal year. In addition to covering tuition costs, Sandburg, Knox and District 205 also share coverage of other costs of the program, such as support services and staff salaries. The program’s budget for 2016-2017 saw a three percent decrease from the previous year.

“The Gale Scholars program is one of the finest working examples you’ll find of a community and its schools pulling together to help more students fulfill the American Dream,” Knox President Teresa Amott said. “Even in the face of uncertainty, we remain committed to the program and are hopeful that together — Knox, Sandburg, District 205 and the Galesburg community — we can sustain this successful program into the future.”

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Aaron Frey