Student grants in limbo while state wrestles with big deficit

Student grants in limbo while state wrestles with big deficit
Detroit Free Press/August 27, 2009


BY CHRIS CHRISTOFF


LANSING -- Thousands of Michigan college-bound students must make their fall tuition payments without the $500 or $1,000 state grants they expected.

At least for now.

A deadlock over a new state budget has put in limbo the Michigan Promise Grant. It pays up to $4,000 for those who pass a certain test in high school or reach their college junior year or earn an associate's degree at a community college.

The grant program is caught in the cross fire over a $2.8 billion state deficit in the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1. The state Senate voted to eliminate Michigan Promise to save $140 million; Gov. Jennifer Granholm has vowed to keep it.

"We are going to have a Michigan Promise scholarship," Granholm insisted Wednesday. "The question is, is it going to have to take a haircut?"

That doesn't comfort collegians.

"For me, it makes it more difficult," said Christopher Rettich of Chesterfield Township, a freshman at Western Michigan University. He said his $500 Michigan Promise Grant for fall semester is on hold.

"We're lucky; we can cover it," he said. "It was money that was promised. Now we don't have that money to spend on other things for school, like books."

Students, colleges scramble over frozen scholarships

Aliee Dugas planned to attend Oakland University this fall in a pre-nursing program.

But -- because of its unresolved budget crisis -- the state is holding up the $1,000 Michigan Promise Grant that Dugas expected for the school year. So, she'll attend less expensive Oakland Community College.

"I'd been counting on that money," said Dugas, 18, who took a part-time job selling hot dogs to help pay for school.

"Last year I went to Schoolcraft Community College and it completely covered my tuition and books the first semester," said Dugas, who moved from her Livonia home to Rochester Hills.

Actually, the grant hasn't been eliminated, but it hasn't been approved by state lawmakers who are haggling over a new state budget.

More than 97,000 college students qualified for $140 million in Promise Grants this school year. Freshmen and sophomores were to receive $500 for fall semester and $500 for winter semester. Juniors were to receive two installments of $1,000 each.

How schools are responding

Universities have dealt differently with the state's delay, with some withholding the Promise Grant amount from students' financial aid, while others temporarily cover the amount.

Wayne State University and Michigan State University are including the Promise Grant as a credit for tuition payments. Central Michigan University is not.

Oakland University is scrambling for funds to cover Promise Grant payments for some students. The school is covering $2.5 million of the $3.6 million that 2,200 of its students expected.

Students who enrolled later at schools are more likely to have their Promise Grants temporarily denied.

Gov. Jennifer Granholm vowed Wednesday that the Michigan Promise Grant program will survive budget cuts, but hinted that it might be scaled back.

If that happens, students who expected the full amount may have to pay some out of their own pockets.

"If they're going to put a hold on it straightaway like this, the chances that I'm going to get it next year are even slimmer," said Allie Kind, 18, a junior at Michigan State University with a double major in economics and German. She lives with her family in nearby Okemos to save money.

"There's always a bit of lack of trust in the government and then they do something like this and it makes you have a complete lack of faith in anything they say they're going to do," Kind said.

When the promise was made

The Michigan Promise Grant was a keystone of Granholm's plan in 2005 to boost the number of college graduates in Michigan.

It was $1,500 bigger than its predecessor, the Michigan Merit Scholarship. Many students qualify by passing a standardized high school test. Otherwise, students who reached junior year at a 4-year university -- with a minimum 2.5 grade point average -- would qualify for up to $4,000 for tuition as would students who earn an associate's degree at a community college.

For students with other scholarships, the Promise Grant money could be used for expenses such as room and board.

Dugas said she's miffed about the uncertainty of her Promise Grant.

"They tell us they want us to be great, go to school, be the best you can be. Then they take away something they literally promised," Dugas said.

Posted on Thursday, August 27, 2009 (Archive on Monday, January 01, 0001)
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