After forty years of policies based on an ill-conceived ranking of priorities, it is time to change the way that the state of Michigan doles out tax dollars to college students in need of financial aid. For too long, the balance of aid in the form of state scholarships has been tipped in favor of private colleges and universities instead of the public universities that the government has a responsibility to support.
Currently, 65 percent of state aid goes to private universities. Even taking into account the high cost of private institutes of higher learning, this figure is astronomic considering the number of students attending public universities today. More and more students are pursuing a higher level of education as time progresses, and as a result of antiquated programs such as this one, the state has been neglecting its responsibility to provide its citizens with such an education for far too long.
A new program proposed by Gov. Jennifer Granholm, called the Michigan Opportunity Scholarship, which has already been passed in the state House and is awaiting approval from the state Senate, is intended to change this. Granholm’s proposal would create a single pooled scholarship fund of $112 million out of five existing programs. Students at private schools would share the total collection of state aid with students at public colleges and universities. The money will then be distributed according to a number of factors, helping those students who need the assistance the most. As a result, the new plan will send approximately 75 percent of funds toward public education – a figure with a much more pleasant ring to it.
Strikingly, the current plan has been utilized for the past forty years. It is refreshing to see that Granholm is willing to roll up her sleeves and spend political capital in order to correct inequities and ensure that the state of Michigan provides a quality education for all of its citizens. Policy moves such as this one will also help eliminate the sour taste in the public’s mouth resulting from the neglect of the state’s education system as a result of horrendous public policy under former Gov. John Engler. The changes put public tax dollars back into public education.
Not surprisingly, private colleges and universities are concerned about the plan being unfair and crippling their institutions. They say that they are entitled to high levels of aid because their tuition rates are higher. During a period when the state is facing a serious financial crisis, however, tax dollars should not be inefficiently spent on private universities, as public schools provide at least the same caliber education at a much lower cost. In addition, anyone claiming that a public university education is easily affordable for the average Michigan family is stretching the descriptive powers of hyperbole. University students in need of additional financial support will be thankful for the reformulation of how aid is distributed as the extra aid will help ease the pain of outrageous tuition hikes as the University’s budget grows smaller and the state prepares to cut funding to public universities.