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'U' and MSU students protest cuts to Promise Scholarship and financial aid

Daily News Editor
Published July 23, 2009

LANSING — Students from the University and Michigan State University gathered on the steps of the Michigan State Capitol in Lansing July 23 to protest the state’s move to cut the Michigan Promise Scholarship and need-based financial aid.

Ariel Bond/Daily
MSA president Abhishek Mahanti speaks with Channel 6 News at the joint press conference regarding the Michigan Promise Scholarship on July 23rd, 2009, on the steps of the Capital building in Lansing.

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The event was co-hosted by the Michigan Student Assembly and the Associated Students of Michigan State University, MSU’s undergraduate student government. More than a dozen representatives from both universities attended the protest, along with government officials.

Kyle Dysarz, ASMSU student assembly chairperson, opened with a remark that addressed how the present issues concerning higher education are so important that they brought two rival schools together.

“It is not every day that you will find a Spartan and a Wolverine standing peacefully alongside each other,” Dysarz said.

As a member of MSU’s student government, Dysarz said he has heard numerous stories about the students and families already struggling to make ends meet who may not be able to afford college tuition if the state continues to slash higher-education funds.

“The reason that we’re here is to talk about a struggling battle for all students — no matter if you’re a Wolverine or a Spartan — (that we) can’t afford to lose,” he said.

MSU raised its tuition 5.2 percent for the 2009-2010 school year, while the University increased tuition 5.6 percent.

Meanwhile, in a move to decrease the state’s estimated $1.7-billion deficit, the Michigan Senate passed a bill on June 23 that cuts the Michigan Promise Scholarship, which provides approximately $140 million to 96,000 students across the state. The bill also eliminates nearly $56 million in need-based financial aid.

Last Wednesday, Republicans in the House of Representatives formed a different set of bills in an attempt to avoid using stimulus funds to reduce the state’s deficit. The plan would keep the Michigan Promise Scholarship but would eradicate other scholarship and financial aid programs such as work-study programs and the Michigan Competitive Scholarships — which are awarded to students based on merit, financial need and ACT scores.

MSA President Abhishek Mahanti spoke to the crowd and discussed how the combination of increasing tuition rates and decreasing financial aid negatively impacts all families, including his own. He said that his family has to pay tuition bills for him and his brother, who will be an incoming freshman at the University this fall.

“Even with the in-state rates in Ann Arbor, these costs have been difficult to handle, and like most families, we’re trying to make it all fit together,” Mahanti said.

He added that the proposed cut of the Michigan Promise Scholarship is disturbing, and would break a promise made to tens of thousands of students who each count on receiving as much as $4,000 in aid.

“It financially awarded high academic performance and provided relief for families like mine that don’t qualify for financial aid but are still feeling this pinch,” Mahanti said.

Mary Clark, chief of staff for Rep. Joan Bauer (D–Lansing), attended the protest and agreed with the student speakers. She said the government should honor the promise grants because they act as incentives to increase the number of college graduates in the state.

“We believe that at this critical time in Michigan’s history it is counterproductive to cut the area that is critical to our state’s economic recovery,” Clark said. “We know that the prosperity of our state and our citizens is directly connected to the number of college graduates that we have in our state.”

Susan Schmidt, chief of staff for Rep. Mark Meadows (D–East Lansing), said she and Meadows also support continuing funding for the scholarship.