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Lawmakers discuss financial aid funding

February 24, 2010

State lawmakers met Wednesday to discuss financial aid funding in Michigan, with a goal to develop a feasible funding plan in the future.

Members of both the House and Senate Higher Education Appropriations subcommittees attended the meeting, which was the first of a series of hearings addressing financial aid issues that affect Michigan students, said state Rep. Joan Bauer, D-Lansing, who chairs the House Higher Education Appropriations Committee.

The subcommittees made finding solutions for financial aid funding their joint goal for the next year, Bauer said.

“We said as a goal that we’d work on this whole issue of financial aid and look at all of our financial aid — except now there is not much to look at,” she said.

According to the Michigan House Fiscal Agency, state financial aid funding, which supports need-based and merit-based student aid, was allocated $78 million for this budget year, which began Oct. 1, 2009. In her annual budget proposal for next fiscal year, Gov. Jennifer Granholm allocated about $48 million — a 38 percent decrease — for financial aid.

The decrease in funding was caused by the proposed elimination of the Tuition Grant Program for private colleges and reforms to the Tuition Incentive Program, offered to some students who graduate high school.

State Sen. Tony Stamas, R-Midland, who chairs the Senate Higher Education Appropriations Committee, said the joint meetings will help lawmakers look at all options before laying out a new plan.

“Given where the state is at, we need to look at those resources we have,” he said.

“You look at where funding has made an impact and say these need to be our priorities.”

Stamas said he wants to evaluate the merit-based and need-based aid and determine which funding helps students the most.

The subcommittees plan to hear testimony from different stakeholders about financial aid strategies, Bauer said.

At Wednesday’s meeting, education policy specialist Brenda Bautsch of the National Conference of State Legislators, a nongovernmental organization that tracks state governing bodies and legislation, testified about other states’ college affordability tactics and financial aid ideas.

Bautsch said other states are beginning to see severe cuts to higher education, while in Michigan there already have been devastating cuts to higher education funding.

“There really isn’t any other comparable situation to the financial aid cutting that has been going on in Michigan,” she said.

Bautsch suggested lawmakers discuss tuition and university operations funding in unison with financial aid funding. She also proposed finding a balance between need-based and merit-based aid.

Bauer said she hopes the subcommittees will find a way to increase funding for financial aid but is unsure of a source for new funding.

The Republican-led Senate has said it will not pass any new taxes, which might be necessary to increase financial aid funding.

“We either have to fund our universities more so tuition can lower or we have to put more money into financial aid,” Bauer said.

“I’m hoping (a solution) will come out of this.”

The House and Senate Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittees will hold a meeting at 4 p.m March 3. at Kellogg Center to hear testimony from students, Bauer said.

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