Correction appended: An earlier version of this story stated that the Michigan Promise Scholarship was a $140,000 merit-based scholarship. The Promise Scholarship is a $140 million merit-based scholarship.
Michigan college students could be forced into an even more difficult financial situation — one that already includes increasing tuition rates for the state’s public universities and an economic recession — if the government passes a bill to eliminate the Michigan Promise Scholarship.
The state House of Representatives is currently reviewing the bill, which would eliminate funding for the Promise Scholarship — a $140 million merit-based scholarship distributed to more than 96,000 college students in Michigan.
The Promise Scholarship was created in December 2006 when Gov. Jennifer Granholm signed it into law. By passing a certain level on the Michigan Merit Exam or successfully completing two years of postsecondary education, students attending college in Michigan could receive up to $4,000 in tuition aid from the grant.
But, in an attempt to cut down the state’s estimated $1.7 billion budget deficit for the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Higher Education passed a bill that calls for an end to the scholarship and other college financial aid programs.
During the 2007-2008 school year, 3,152 students at the University received money from the Promise Scholarship. Numbers are not available for the 2008-2009 school year because students have until Nov. 15 to certify the scholarship.
Pamela Fowler, executive financial aid director for the University, said the University will try to find additional funding for need-based students to compensate for the scholarship if the bill is passed.
“The University of Michigan meets the full need of students,” Fowler said. “If students need the $1,000, the University will find resources to meet that need.”
But Fowler said students receiving the Promise Scholarship would lose all funding if they are not already eligible for financial aid.
“We will cover the costs for students who have need,” Fowler said. “We have no intention to do otherwise. We will not cover students who do not qualify for need-based aid.”
Michael Boulus, executive director of the Presidents’ Council, a lobbying group for the state’s public universities, said cutting the Michigan Promise Scholarship would put a lot of financial strain on families who depend on the scholarship money.
“It’s going to unfortunately add pressure and debt to students’ higher education costs,” Boulus said. “I know there are a lot of Michigan families quite concerned and counting on that aid that’s been already earned.”
Heather Quillen, a sophomore in the School of Music, Theatre & Dance, was awarded $2,500 from the Promise Scholarship. She said she depends on that money to help pay for her education.
“If they decide to cut (the scholarship) then it will make it very difficult for me to go back to school in the fall,” Quillen said.
Quillen — who has not been able to find a job because of the state of Michigan’s economy — said she doesn’t know how she would come up with the extra money.
“Hopefully I can find a job and work so I can get the money, and if not, my family will have to cut back on expenses a lot so we can pay the amount,” she said.
Lori Vedder, vice president of the Michigan Financial Aid Student Association and director of financial aid at the University of Michigan-Flint, said removing the Michigan Promise Scholarship could affect enrollment at the University and other schools in the state.
“You could have a needy family that it’s going to impact greater than a student whose family may have the potential to fund the tuition bill at an institution,” Vedder said.
LSA sophomore Katie Donaldson will have received $4,000 from the scholarship by graduation. She said she wouldn’t be impacted if the money were taken away because her family pays for her tuition. But, she is aware that other students aren’t so lucky.
“Personally it wouldn’t affect me that much, but I know I have friends who really depend on it who aren’t as financially stable or have to pay for college on their own,” she said.
Boulus said Michigan universities are trying to do whatever they can to protect students from the financial crisis.
“Every single university, as they’re setting their budget and tuition for next year, are also increasing their financial aid,” Boulus said.
On June 16, the University Board of Regents approved a budget that included $118 million in financial aid, which is an 11.7-percent increase in undergraduate financial aid.
Despite the increase in aid, Boulus said the government needs to find a source of revenue so that scholarships are not cut from the state budget.
“It’s called the promise grant for a reason, and the Senate’s action would literally break the promise scholarship to about 100,000 students,” Boulus said.
“The fact of the matter is the state can’t cut its way through this budget mess it’s in,” he added. “Until they start addressing the tough issues on finding more revenue and reforming Michigan’s tax system, they’re going to continue to play chicken with the budget to avoid hard choices.”
Boulus said he believes the government may have no option but to pass the bill.
“If they don’t raise revenue, they have no choice but to make the cuts that the Senate (presented),” he said.
Vedder said University officials must wait for the decision before taking action.
“There is a lot of discussion going on, and we have to trust our lawmakers to make the right decision for our students here in Michigan,” she said. “We’re going to keep monitoring it, and as soon as we know something our students will know something.”