With budget concerns on their mind, state
legislators recently passed a bill that has a direct impact on high
school students wishing to study out of state. Last week, the state
Senate passed a bill to limit the number of Michigan students that
are eligible for the scholarship. The bill asserts that students
who plan to attend colleges outside of the state of Michigan will
not be able to receive money from the Michigan Merit Award, even if
they score well on the state’s standardized tests. This
proposal is a good way to keep money within the state, althought it
may have the relatively benign effect of decreasing scores.

Janna Hutz

The Merit Award is a score-based program to reward student
achievement as measured by Michigan Education Assessment Program
tests. The award is used for educational expenses at approved
colleges and traditionally has given $2,500 for those attending
in-state institutions and $1,000 for out-of-state institutions. The
program was established by the Michigan Legislature starting with
the high school Class of 2000. About 49,000 college-bound seniors
earn the award each year. Eliminating out-of-state use of the
scholarship was part of a budget deal reached by legislative
leaders and Gov. Jennifer Granholm earlier this year. The change is
expected to save the state about $4.5 million and could affect
about 4,500 students.

Even though $4.5 million is not a significant amount of money in
terms of government budgets, it is money that should rightly remain
within the state. While public universities in Michigan are
experiencing unprecedented budget cuts, Lansing should not be
sending state scholarship funds to institutions across the state
line. Additionally, by stipulating that only students who study in
state will receive money, high school seniors will have an
additional incentive to stay in Michigan. In theory, this will help
stem the “brain drain” or flight of young educated
adults out of the state.

However, this change might have unforseen side effects. Because
the exams are completely unnecesary for graduation, there is no
mandatory reason to take them. But since the award program was
established in 1999, the state’s students have had tremendous
financial motivation to take the tests, and furthermore, to perform
well. This motivation had led to high averages in the recent years
on the test’s four components: reading, math, science and
social studies. Revamping the scholarship system could impact this.
It is fair to say that students looking to study out-of-state are
some of the best and the brightest Michigan has to offer. Thus, if
the $1,000 out-of-state award is eliminated, these top students
will not feel the need to spend the four days taking the test
because the test will be of no benefit to them. This may decrease
average tests scores in the state.

Granholm and Michigan lawmakers, gripped by budget concerns,
made a prudent decision in deciding to limit eligibility for the
Michigan Merit Award. The state should not subsizide educational
institutions in other states while local public universities
struggle through tough financial times. With this change, however,
may come depressed scores. State educational officials should not
panic if MEAP scores decrease. Improving Michigan’s
institutes of higher education should be one of the state’s
top priorities.

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