NORMAL, Ill. (WMBD) — Gov. JB Pritzker was at Heartland Community College on Tuesday to highlight his proposed investments for increased access to community college.

Pritzker’s FY 2024 budget calls for a $100 million increase in Monetary Award Program (MAP) grants, from $601 million to $701 million. It’s the largest increase in state history and a 75% increase since he took office in 2019.

MAP Grants are available to Illinois residents with demonstrated financial need and do not need to be repaid. They can also be paired with federal Pell Grants.

“Illinois is poised to make history, making it possible for every working-class resident of our state to get a degree, training and skills that institutions like Heartland provide, and doing it tuition-free and fee-free. That’s a big deal. That’s never happened before in the state of Illinois,” said Pritzker.

Pritzker said the large investments into higher education are feasible thanks to a balanced budget.

“Because of the work that we’ve done, our state can redirect funding that once went to interest payments back into opportunity for Illinois, all while maintaining that balanced budget…We’re making smart investments now so that Illinois residents can reap the economic rewards that they deserve,” he said.

Illinois has the third largest community college system in the country. With the increased investments, Pritzker said any eligible resident who applies for a MAP grant, will get one.

“A lot of people are scared away from getting a college education, coming to a community college because they’re afraid of the debt and the burden they will carry with them for so many years. So we’re alleviating that burden,” said Pritzker.

The budget also includes $19.4 million for community college operations, the largest increase in 20 years.

“As we make college tuition more affordable for students, we also need to invest in the school facilities. Bringing them into the 21st century, updating curriculum and resources, and ensuring that these engines of local economy like Heartland are running at their very best,” said Pritzker.

Pritzker said community colleges serve as accelerators for the local economy by producing degrees with a return of 25%. That translates to a direct economic impact of $3.5 billion annually.

“Making good investments at the state level has a great return going forward for everybody,” he said.