Fighting for an unkept Promise
Sam Inglot might spend a little less time relaxing this summer. Inglot, a journalism sophomore, said he’ll look for a second job to patch a hole the Michigan Promise Scholarship used to fill on his MSU tuition bill. “I am not really sure where I am going to get that money this spring,” he said. “But another job, that’s a definite this summer, as well as summer classes at a community college. I can’t keep paying more at MSU when I can just take cheaper classes.”
Inglot is one of 8,200 MSU students who qualified to receive the Michigan Promise Scholarship, which was slashed — along with 61 percent of additional financial aid funding — to erase Michigan’s $2.8 billion deficit for the 2009-10 fiscal year.
Inglot and about 150 other MSU students gathered Wednesday at the Administration Building where Gov. Jennifer Granholm, MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon, representatives from ASMSU and the MSU Council of Graduate Students addressed students about the state of higher education funding.
Granholm encouraged students to contact state legislators and express their concerns about state budget cuts to higher education, specifically the elimination of the Michigan Promise Scholarship.
“I’m here to stand in solidarity with you, to ask the (Michigan Senate) to restore the Michigan Promise,” Granholm said. “It is very clear that we have got to fund this promise, so I am asking you to stand tall and to make your voices heard.”
Statewide, the scholarship was to provide up to $4,000 to 96,000 eligible college students. Earlier this month, MSU officials developed a plan to use $7.9 million in federal stimulus dollars to aid the more than 8,000 MSU students affected by the loss of the scholarship with one-time, $500 grants this fall, said Rick Shipman, director of the MSU Office of Financial Aid.
In the spring, part of the stimulus funds will be used to ensure about 2,000 high-need students of the 8,200 previously eligible will have the full $1,000 in Promise Scholarship funding they expected for the year, Shipman said.
“We are using the tools available to us to try to find support for the next generation, which includes basic funding as well as the Promise Scholarship,” Simon said. “We think that this has to be a priority and how they find the money is really (the Legislature’s) job.”
Granholm will visit five other college campuses in the next week to encourage lawmakers to reinstate the scholarship. But experts said until a revenue source is identified and agreed upon, the Michigan Promise Scholarship will not be reinstated.
“There are a lot of demands on the Legislature to spend money, and they just don’t have any money,” said Craig Ruff, senior policy fellow at Public Sector Consultants, a policy research group in Lansing.
A freeze on the earned income tax exemption that was passed in the state House to raise revenues should be used to fund the scholarship, Granholm said. The earned income tax freeze would create up to $160 million in new revenue and the Michigan Promise Scholarship costs about $100 million, Granholm said.
But Matt Marsden, spokesman for the Senate Republicans, said Granholm’s action does nothing to change the budget situation.
“There is no state funding available for things like the Promise grant,” Marsden said. “Feel free to contact your senator, but understand that in doing so that you might not like the answer.”
Marsden said legislators need to look at major structural changes before a scholarship like this is reinstated.
And until the Legislature can agree on reforms, programs will continue to be cut, said Bernie Porn, president of Lansing-based political research firm EPIC-MRA polling.
“Programs will continue to decline unless we have some restructuring of the tax system,” he said.
The Michigan Promise Scholarship, originally the Michigan Merit Award, began as a way to reward high school students for taking Michigan standardized tests, said David Waymire, a spokesman of the Presidents Council State Universities of Michigan.
“The incentive might be better used if it were focused on those who have higher need who might not otherwise go to college,” Waymire said.
Granholm said she hopes the Legislature will reconsider the scholarship after returning from a two-week break after Thanksgiving.
“Everybody says the budget is done,” Granholm said. “It’s not done until everybody agrees it’s done. And I say it’s not done.”
In the spring, MSU plans to use about $1.9 million of its federal stimulus dollars to provide a $5 per credit hour refund for all resident undergraduate students. If lawmakers refund the Michigan Promise Scholarship, the university would offset tuition costs by an additional $15 per credit hour, said Dave Byelich, the director of MSU’s Office of Planning and Budgets.
Inglot said he could deal with the stress of working extra hours this summer, but his real concern lies in the state’s priorities.
“Not much stresses me out,” he said. “But it’s quite clear that the Legislature doesn’t really have education as (a) top priority. I plan on staying in Michigan, but when I get something that is supposed to be guaranteed money that I earned and then they take it from me, it’s a slap in the face.”