Gov. Jennifer Granholm, having already signed a budget eliminating the Michigan Promise Scholarship, has now returned to her pro-education rhetoric. Last week, she urged college students to pressure the legislature to fund the program, which helps students pay for in-state tuition. Though her position is hypocritical in light of her signature on last month’s budget, Granholm is correct — the government has a duty to reverse its decision on the Promise Scholarship. But the burden shouldn’t be on students: Instead, legislators should start doing their jobs and find a way to fund this necessary tuition aid program.
The Michigan Promise Scholarship, which provides between $500 and $4,000 in merit aid to 6,172 University students, was cut in late September by state legislators due to a $2.8 billion budget shortfall. But apparently dissatisfied with the budget bill she signed that cut the scholarship, Granholm has begun a statewide campaign to restore the scholarship and plans to visit college campuses across the state. She has suggested that the legislature, currently enjoying its hunting season recess, amend the Earned Income Tax Credit as a means of funding the $120 million program.
The loss of the Promise Scholarship is particularly painful in light of tuition increases over the last decade. With tuition up 52 percent since 2002, the University of Michigan consistently ranks among the most expensive public universities in the country. Scholarship cuts and tuition increases were compounded by significant cuts to K-12 education in this year’s budget. The bottom line is a Michigan that is all but giving up on its schools.
Such a result will be disastrous for the state’s students. While those with options will go to other states for an education, many will not be able to afford tuition anywhere else. These students won’t gain the skills needed to excel in today’s economy, and will be left with fewer employment options with lower salaries. The state should feel responsible for helping people to escape this future by offering comprehensive tuition aid.
But in addition to moral concerns, the state should fund the Promise Scholarship for practical considerations as well. With every student who leaves Michigan in search of better-funded and less expensive schools, the state’s future employment base dwindles. The long-term result will be a state that isn’t prepared to move its economy in new directions. And if the state economy can’t improve, legislators are certain to face even greater budgetary shortfalls down the line. This is the danger in allowing the cost of higher education in Michigan to slip out of reach of most students.
Students shouldn’t have to pressure lawmakers — as Granholm is urging — to save the Promise Scholarship. The inherent value of education to Michigan’s future is something that should already be understood. The fact that legislators approved a budget that doesn’t fund the Promise Scholarship and Granholm signed it speaks volumes about the incompetence of the former and the insincerity of the latter. But both branches of government should feel compelled to revisit the budget debate, find alternate sources of revenue and keep the promise to Michigan’s students.
And if they don’t do that, no amount of cutting programs or raising taxes will save the budget of a state has given up on education.