Capital News Service

of the Michigan State University School of Journalism

Lawmakers push scholarships to keep students in Michigan

By CHRISTINE HOMAN
Capital News Service

LANSING – College students are leaving the state in droves after graduation, and lawmakers are pursuing ways to keep them here.

“We need the best and brightest of our college graduates to stay in Michigan to help create new jobs and help bring Michigan’s economy back,” said Rep. James Bolger, R-Marshall.

Bolger has proposed a Keep Michigan Scholars Program to encourage students to stay in the state.

Co-sponsors include Reps. Matt Lori, R-Constantine, Pete Lund, R-Shelby Township, Kevin Daley, R-Lum, and Tory Rocca, R-Sterling Heights.

The program would establish a scholarship with eligibility requirements similar to those of the suspended Michigan Promise scholarship. However, recipients would have to live and work in Michigan for five years after they graduate.

While details of the proposal are still being determined, the scholarship would likely cost around the same as the Promise scholarship, which had a $160 million-a-year price tag.

Students who don’t stay long enough would have to repay 20 percent of the scholarship for each year of the residency requirement they don’t fulfill.

Recipients would be excused from this provision if they enter the military or become disabled.

Rep. Goeff Hansen, R-Hart, said the proposal would provide an incentive for the best and brightest students to stay and stem the problem of a brain drain.

According to a 2008 report by Michigan Future, a public policy think tank in Ann Arbor, roughly half of the in-state students who graduate leave, most because they can’t find jobs or find a better jobs elsewhere.

Bolger said that the proposal is only part of keeping students in Michigan, and that having jobs for graduates is critical, noting that the children and grandchildren of many constituents leave for that reason.

Bolger said the proposal arose from debate over reinstating the Promise scholarship, because the state failed to fund the program this year to help balance the budget. About 96,000 students had expected the money.

Lawmakers eliminated the $160 million-a-year program this year to help balance the budget.

“If we’re going to replace the Promise scholarship, we ought to do it as a way to also keep our students here,” he said.

He said that the state should carefully evaluate its spending to determine what could be cut to finance the Keep Michigan Scholars Program.

As an example, he suggested eliminating the earned income tax credit, a refundable tax credit geared towards working people, which costs about $330 million in lost revenue, about twice the cost of the Promise scholarship.

Otherwise, Bolger said, the state would need to use existing resources to fund the new program.

Val Meyers, associate director of financial aid at Michigan State University, said there are good and bad points in the proposal.

She said giving students the money upfront is better than giving them a $4,000 tax credit after graduation, as Gov. Jennifer Granholm proposed.

However, she said students should be aware that it could cost them a lot of money if they don’t stay the entire five years after they graduate.

© 2010, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

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