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This article is a part of a data-driven series in which The Michigan Daily obtained records on the top 301 schools by number of applications to the University of Michigan for the Fall 2019 freshman class through a public records request. These data are not representative of the entire freshman class, nor are the data about the schools a perfect aggregate representation of all students who attend the University.

Along with the Wolverine, the colors maize and blue and the renowned block ‘M,’ the hallmark exclamations “Go Blue!” and “Hail!” are an integral part of community identity at the University of Michigan. However, several low-income students who are financing their education with the help of the Go Blue Guarantee or the High Achieving Involved Leader (HAIL) scholarship say that for them, these phrases carry a much deeper meaning.

The total campus disbursement of aid for the 2020 fiscal year was over $1 billion, which includes federal, state and institutional grants as well as scholarships, loans and Work-Study payments. Seventy percent of in-state undergraduates receive some kind of financial aid and one in four pay no tuition at all. In particular, this last group includes students from lower socioeconomic statuses who are either selected for the HAIL scholarship or qualify for the Go Blue Guarantee, both of which fully cover a student’s tuition for up to four years. 

Data obtained by The Daily regarding the Fall 2019 freshman class affirms that among the list of the top 301 schools by number of applications to the University, in schools where more than 17.5% of students qualified for free lunch, the average matriculation rate for admitted students was 52%. Comparatively, only 40% of admitted students from high schools where less than 17.5% of students qualified for free lunch chose to enroll at the University.

The disparity between the two matriculation rates suggests that students from lower socioeconomic status districts are more likely to accept their offer of admission from the University than students from more affluent areas. Though there is no concrete answer as to why this is, The Daily talked to several current U-M students from lower-income areas across the state, and found their decisions to attend the University were all predominantly based on two things: affordability and financial aid.

HAIL opens doors for disadvantaged students

The HAIL scholarship program was first announced in 2015 to attempt to increase socioeconomic diversity at the University’s Ann Arbor campus. In an email to The Daily, University spokeswoman Kim Broekhuizen wrote that the scholarship continues to be offered annually to high-achieving, in-state, low-income students who are selected using data provided to the University through a special memorandum by the Michigan Department of Education.

More than 1,000 students have accepted the full-tuition HAIL scholarship over the past five years. A 2018 paper co-authored by Public Policy professor Susan Dynarski revealed that the scholarship originated as a social experiment in which the financial aid that low-income students would already have been entitled to was simply “re-packaged” in personalized, eye-catching maize and blue striped envelopes. The students’ financial aid offers were advertised as a whole new scholarship which was guaranteed to them upon admittance to the University. 

“Students in the study would have been eligible for at least free tuition and fees in the absence of this intervention,” Dynarski wrote in the research paper.

Though the HAIL scholarship did not provide any new financial aid, both the results of the study and personal attestations from students who are currently part of the HAIL program emphasize its undeniable effect on encouraging lower-income students to matriculate.

LSA sophomore Brittney Schaefer, HAIL scholarship recipient, was the first student from Charlton Heston Academy in St. Helen, Mich., to be accepted into any Big Ten school. Besides her scholarship and acceptance becoming a local symbol of the opportunities available to students from Charlton Heston, Schaefer said HAIL was personally meaningful because it financially allowed her to honor a promise she had made to her mother, who passed away when she was 13.

“When I was 12, I always told (my mom) that I was going to U of M, because when you’re a kid you’ll say anything,” Schaefer said. “So my first thought when I got the scholarship and got in was, ‘I’m actually going to fulfill my promise to her.’”

Schaefer said if she had not received the notice that she had gotten the HAIL scholarship prior to the early action deadline, her financial situation would have discouraged her from applying to the University altogether. Now, however, Schaefer said she could not imagine who she would be without the experiences she has gained as a Wolverine.

“(Attending the University) has definitely taken me out of my comfort zone and has given me the education and the opportunities that I really wanted,” Schaefer said. “It’s just opening so many doors for me.”

LSA senior Caleb Adams, who attended Bark River-Harris High School in Harris, Mich., also received the HAIL scholarship. As just one of the two students who applied to the University from his graduating class of 37, Adams echoed Schaefer’s gratitude for the scholarship, which also enabled him to financially consider the University as a post-secondary option.

“I grew up a Michigan fan, but I didn’t consider going to college there before (the scholarship),” Adams said. “Now, Michigan has sent me to Amsterdam to study abroad. Last fall I had lunch with George Bush’s Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice. Opportunities like that I just wouldn’t have had at other universities.”

Though Schaefer and Adams account for just two data points in Dynarski’s massive study, their experiences corroborate the overall trend. In the conclusion section of the published study, Dynarski wrote that students who received the HAIL scholarship packet were more than twice as likely to apply and enroll at the University as in-state students in similar socioeconomic situations who were not sent personalized financial aid information or a scholarship.

“We conclude that an encouragement to apply, paired with a promise of aid, when communicated to students and influential adults, can substantially close income gaps in college choices,” Dynarski wrote.

Go Blue Guarantee strives to encourage greater socioeconomic diversity

According to University President Mark Schlissel, the HAIL research project was instrumental in designing the program he would be most proud of implementing within his first five years as president: the Go Blue Guarantee. Going into effect in the Winter 2018 semester, the guarantee has since ensured free tuition to admitted in-state students whose total household income is up to $65,000 with assets of up to $50,000.

Like the HAIL scholarship, the Go Blue Guarantee was not the result of additional financial aid to lower-income students, but merely an advertising campaign to more effectively communicate existing aid opportunities.

The philosophy behind the guarantee was derived from HAIL’s success with increasing low-income student application rates by advertising specific financial aid promises when high school students begin the college application process, but the Go Blue Guarantee aims to do this on an even more massive scale. Whereas HAIL promises full-tuition to a selected few, the Go Blue Guarantee means that anyone who meets the guarantee’s residency, admission and financial need requirements automatically knows they will have their tuition covered by the University.

University spokeswoman Kim Broekhuizen wrote in an email to The Daily that the University is attempting to replicate HAIL’s efficacy regarding informative, personalized mail with the guarantee by increasing student awareness about the program statewide.

“We… mail a brochure to in-state high school juniors describing Michigan’s affordability and the Go Blue Guarantee to create greater awareness of the initiative,” Broekhuizen wrote. “There is also a robust marketing campaign to increase awareness among Michigan residents of the GBG.”

LSA junior Miranda Santos said she was first made aware of the Go Blue Guarantee when she saw a U-M Facebook advertisement for it while she was a student at Pinconning High School in Pinconning, Mich. Santos said she had not seriously considered college altogether for most of her life since no one in her family had gone to a university, and the graduates she knew from her high school typically dropped out for financial reasons after a year or two.

“I didn’t have money, so college was something that wasn’t even on my mind until my junior year,” Santos said. “Then finding out about (the guarantee) and that I don’t have to pay for tuition was just like, holy crap, I can actually get a degree.”

Additionally, Fernando Barrera, a college advisor for Lincoln Park High School — where at least 50% of students qualify for free or reduced lunch — said the Go Blue Guarantee inherently sends a supportive message to his students. 

“A lot of times, students from low-income backgrounds may feel daunted by going to big universities like Michigan and think that there aren’t going to be other people that come from similar backgrounds,” Barrera said. “These types of programs create a more welcoming environment.”

But there has been activism to expand the guarantee’s “welcoming environment” to include the University’s Dearborn and Flint campuses, which have more lower-income students as well as more minority students. The One University Campaign, a coalition of students and faculty who advocate for equity across U-M’s three campuses, has protested for GBG’s expansion for more than a year. In January, the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs voted in support of 1U’s initiative

As of the end of February, however, there have been no new conversations on the topic. When asked about the possibility of expanding the Go Blue Guarantee to the other two campuses, Broekhuizen wrote to The Daily that the program was created specifically with the Ann Arbor campus in mind.

“The Go Blue Guarantee was created to address a specific concern — increasing access to the Ann Arbor campus by students from more diverse socioeconomic families,” Broekhuizen wrote. “The program is designed to help those students overcome the perceived barriers that they cannot afford UM-Ann Arbor whose tuition and fees are greater than that of UM-Dearborn and UM-Flint.”

For now, LSA sophomore Andrea Behrmann, who is also a recipient of the Go Blue Guarantee, said she just feels fortunate that her hard work in high school and college will pay off with a reputable degree and fewer student loans.

“Overall (the guarantee) is just so important for reaching people who grew up in lower-income area communities,” Behrmann said. “It gives students like me the same opportunity to go to U of M as anyone else.”

Daily Staff Reporter Roni Kane can be reached at ronikane@umich.edu.

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