Seniors in the Kalamazoo Public Schools are celebrating the establishment of The Kalamazoo Promise, a scholarship program funded by anonymous donors that will offer full tuition to any public college or university in Michigan each year for graduating students from the district. For many students, this unprecedented gift will open doors that would have otherwise remained tightly locked. Without private, generous donors, many eligible students miss the opportunity to pursue higher education. Yet this should not be the case. Rather than having to rely on the philanthropy of kind strangers, all qualified students attending public universities deserve sufficient state and federal government support to make their college education affordable.
Every year, many capable students reject the idea of attending a four-year university due to the high costs that plague higher education. Tuition costs continue to rise, and students simply cannot finance their own college careers. The current trend of declining state support for public institutions of higher learning has led to high tuition that leaves a four-year institution off-limits to many. Students who study diligently and perform well in high school deserve the opportunity to attend a four-year public institution.
Unlike private institutions that often enjoy large endowments, public schools rely on state sponsorship. Elite private universities can often establish a variety of programs to help students afford high tuition costs. In contrast, the majority of public institutions simply cannot financially support such programs. Because of its loyal alumni base, last year the University was able to pledge to meet the unmet financial need of in-state students through the M-PACT program. However, not all universities have the financial support to make this ideal a reality.
Although making higher education affordable for every qualified student would burden state budgets, lawmakers should view such expenditures as an investment in the state’s economic future. Michigan, in particular, needs highly educated workers to attract technology jobs, as the state’s manufacturing sector continues to slip away. More students could support themselves financially after college, and the rates of high school graduation would increase as students work toward a realistic goal. The security of financial assistance after high school would motivate more students to avoid dropping out in hopes of pursuing higher education. The state needs as many students as possible to attend college and obtain degrees.
On a broader stage, the federal government also needs to improve its financial aid policy. In 2004, the Bush administration placed a limit of $4,050 on individual Pell grants through its education budget. This action followed two previous years of either cutting or limiting the allotment for tuition money. The administration should not punish students for its unwise fiscal policies – tax cuts for the rich during a war come to mind – that have led to spiraling federal deficits. The government should increase its support to help students attend school rather then place more roadblocks in their paths.
The anonymous gift to students in Kalamazoo’s public schools demonstrated an overwhelming degree of generosity that will change the lives of hundreds of students that come through the school system. However, students should not need to rely on the philanthropy of generous strangers to finance their college careers. The state and federal governments have the responsibility to assist qualified students. Continued reliance on private donors will not satisfy the widespread need for higher education funding across the country. All smart, hardworking students deserve an equal opportunity to attend the public universities in their state – no student should ever have to choose a school based on how much money his family has.