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Effort to restore promise scholarship continues

By Rick Pluta, MPRN



For the past three years, Michigan's high school seniors graduated knowing that they would get at least $4,000 from the state to help them pay for college or job training. But late last year the state eliminated the Michigan Promise scholarship.

Democratic Governor Jennifer Granholm says she will this year try to convince lawmakers to restore the Promise scholarship. Fiscal conservatives say it's a luxury the state can no longer afford. Supporters of the scholarship say it can still be an important part of efforts to resurrect the state's economy.

Michigan Public Radio's Rick Pluta reports.

AUDIO: The windfall of national tobacco lawsuit settlement dollars allowed Michigan to set up a scholarship fund in the 1990s. It was Governor Jennifer Granholm's idea to extend the scholarship to every high school graduate, starting with the class of 2007. But last year, Michigan, like almost every other state, ran into big budget troubles. So, the Legislature took away the $100,000,000 that funded the scholarship and used it to plug budget holes. Granholm says that was a big mistake as Michigan tries to double the number of college graduates living here, and create a highly educated workforce that will attract employers.

"I think it's really, really important for us to provide access to higher education as we try to double the number of our college graduates," Granholm says, "so I think the Michigan Promise is one important aspect of that."

Granholm says the Promise was also critical to the success of local "Promise zones." The state allowed 10 high-poverty communities to take a portion of local property taxes to help pay even more of a student's tuition.

"The foundation for those Promise zones were Promise scholarships," says Granholm. "And so, the challenge is, if we don't have a Promise scholarship those Promise zones become much more challenging to send their kids to school."

She says the Promise zones encouraged at-risk teens to finish high school.
Other states that have turned to publicly funded scholarships are also running into budget woes.

Vincent Badalato is a higher education expert with the National Conference of State Legislatures. He says while states want to make higher education more affordable, it's easier to cut spending on colleges than nearly anywhere else in a state's budget. He says many states are shifting the burden to the schools, and demanding better results if they want taxpayers' money.

"I think it's starting to have states think more seriously about performance funding," Badalato says, "providing a certain amount of money for institutions if they complete a certain number of students or meet certain benchmarks for completing numbers of students."

Michigan State University junior Brett Teslaa says the Promise scholarship helped him and a lot of other students focus on trying to graduate in four years. Teslaa is one of 96,000 students who lost the Michigan Promise scholarship this year.

He says he'll take out another loan because he doesn't have time to take on a second job, and his parents can't help with any more tuition costs.

"I think I should be alright," Teslaa says, "but I don't know, it just seems like kind of a lose-lose situation."

Brett Teslaa says other students he knows might just reduce their class loads, work more, or even delay graduating.

Last year, Michigan State forgave freshman and sophomores the portion of their tuitions that would have been paid by the Michigan Promise. But MSU can't afford to continue picking up the cost, and this year, only lower-income students will get the same deal. Other students will be allowed to take out additional loans, and hope that Michigan can find a way to restore its promise to all of its college students.

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