Most children learn in preschool that it’s important to keep promises. But state legislators— who are poised to cut the Michigan Promise Scholarship — seem to have forgotten this lesson. Facing a $2.8 billion deficit in next year’s budget, the state Senate has voted to eliminate funding for the scholarship. What legislators don’t understand is that many Michigan students are counting on the scholarship to help pay for tuition in the state. If members of Congress want to restore any measure of faith in their ability to keep their promises — and in their supposed commitment to higher education — they will restore funding to the Promise Scholarship.
The Promise Scholarship is a state-sponsored merit scholarship that awards between $500 and $4,000 to students who score well on the Michigan Merit Exam. This semester, more than 5,000 University students and 96,000 students across the state were expected to receive aid from the grant. But in June, the state Senate voted to cut the scholarship’s funding, which should save the state $140 million. Thousands of students have received notice from the University that this semester’s allotment of aid won’t be coming unless the legislature changes its mind before approving the next fiscal year’s budget.
While the irony of having cut a tuition aid program named the Promise Scholarship is somewhat funny, the result is anything but. For students who were counting on the money, a college education became much less affordable. And as tuition rates have continued to skyrocket over the years, dependence on financial aid is the situation facing many Michigan students.
More than individual losses, cutting the scholarship indicates that the legislature doesn’t understand the economic importance of affordable higher education in Michigan’s dismal economy. The future of the state’s economy lies in new industries that rely heavily on innovation, science and technology, but only a well-educated workforce will be able to accommodate this demand. Michigan’s workforce will never become educated if high school students can’t afford college tuition.
The University, at least, wants to help. It has notified recipients that it will try to foot the bill in the event that the cut is final, and it won’t charge late fees on tuition bills until the fate of the scholarship has been decided. This is admirable, but it camouflages the University’s culpability in the problem. Tuition at the University has increased 52.6 percent since 2002. While some of this can be attributed to unsteady state funding, it is ultimately the University’s responsibility to control its own costs.
Admittedly, the state will need to make budget cuts, but funding for higher education should not be the recipient of those cuts. The state needs to protect scholarships, not slash them. Instead, the state should look at scaling back bloated programs like the corrections budget, which accounts for more than 20 percent of the general fund each year.
The state made a promise to scholarship recipients. It even went so far as to name the scholarship the “Promise.” It can’t break its word now, with so many students depending on it.