By NICK MORDOWANEC
Capital News Service
LANSING – A promise is usually recognized as an assurance between parties, but in Michigan, not all promises are kept, critics of proposed budget cuts say.
The Promise Scholarship has been eliminated from the state’s proposed 2010 budget, along with at least $60 million in financial aid for students attending college, as part of an effort to balance the books for the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1.
With the overall budget facing a $2.8 billion deficit, about $200 million in higher education spending is at risk.
The scholarships currently provide up to $4,000 to high school graduates for completing two years of postsecondary education, such as obtaining an associate’s degree. The Promise program began with 2007 high school graduates, and 96,000 college students are currently benefiting from the program.
In a state whose graduates often flee for employment opportunities in other parts of the country, reducing financial aid to students from low-to-middle income households may keep many high school graduates from seeking a degree, education experts say.
“We oppose the elimination of the Promise Scholarship program,” said Mike Hansen, president of the Michigan Community College Association.
“Of maybe bigger concern, however, are the cuts or elimination of many of the other need-based financial aid programs, including the State Competitive Scholarship Program, the Part-time Independent Student Program, Michigan Work Study Program, the Michigan Education Opportunity Grant Program and the Nursing Scholarship program.”
The need-based programs cited by Hansen cover varied amounts of educational expenses which, like the Promise scholarships, help needy students enrolled in both public and private institutions.
Hansen said, “Given that these are need-based programs, their elimination affects some of the most needy students in this state, many of whom attend community colleges. We are hopeful that the Legislature continues to search for other ways to find funding for these vitally important financial aid programs.”
“It’s clearly the wrong message,” said Michael Boulus, the executive director of the Presidents Council, State Universities of Michigan. The organization acts as a coordinating body for the 15 state universities.
Boulus said that in addition to pending cuts in financial aid and Promise scholarships, other educational programs such as preschool may be cut as well.
“There is no vision, no investment strategy,” he said. “They are attacking both sides of the spectrum.”
Boulus cited a correlation between college graduates and a state’s economic prosperity, saying that Michigan ranks last in the nation in terms of investments in higher education.
Many students have expressed dissatisfaction about the cuts.
“We have been in contact with students since June,” said Val Meyers, associate director of Michigan State University’s Office of Financial Aid. “Kids counted on money for books, but now we are all looking at different options. Everything depends on which direction the state goes with its budget.”
Travis Foote, an MSU junior from Mount Pleasant majoring in computer science and economics, views Gov. Jennifer Granholm as an onlooker and not a contributor to fix the problem. Foote receives a Promise scholarship.
“It is poor fiscal responsibility,” Foote said. “If someone took enough time to calculate, they would realize that reducing a person’s debt could contribute far more to Michigan’s economy because of the lower interest rate.”
At a Capitol rally to protest the proposed cuts, Reps. Joan Bauer, D-Lansing and Mark Meadows, D-East Lansing, opposed eliminating the scholarships.
Mitchell Rivard, president of the MSU Democrats, said his organization submitted more than 2,000 signatures to House Speaker Andy Dillon, D-Redford Township, and Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop, R-Rochester, in an attempt to spare the scholarships.