|Students Stung by Promise Cuts|
November 20, 2009/The Detroit News
Some students get help from colleges, others left searching for funds
By Karen Bouffard
Lansing --With just weeks before the end of the fall semester many college students are unsure if Promise Scholarship money will be available for next term or how they might replace the funding.
Some schools will use one-time federal stimulus cash or general fund money to cover the loss for one term, but after that, if the Legislature doesn't act, students are on their own.
"I've already scheduled my spring semester, but I'm really going to have to find another source of money if I'm going to be able to stay at Ferris," said Ferris State University freshman Paula Getzmeyer, a pre-pharmacy major from Brandon Township, in Oakland County.
Officials at Wayne State University, Eastern Michigan University and some other schools are waiting to see if Gov. Jennifer Granholm's campaign to restore the grants for 96,000 students will succeed -- despite a clear message from Senate Republicans that they won't budge on restoring the Promise grant, at least in the current fiscal year. Granholm this week began a tour of college campuses during which she is urging students to pressure their lawmakers to restore the grants. The governor visits Oakland Community College this afternoon.
"What we're doing is advocating on behalf of the students that those funds should be restored," said Al Hermsen, senior director of the office of financial aid for WSU. "We're hoping that funding can be restored, and if it's not there will be room for additional discussion."
Additional higher education cuts are compounding the loss for many students. Lawmakers cut the Michigan Competitive Scholarship from $1,300 per year to $750. They also eliminated nursing scholarships, which provided $4,000 per year, as well as Work Study awards and Michigan Education Opportunity Grants.
To raise revenue for Promise grants, Granholm is pushing lawmakers to use money from a partial freeze in a scheduled increase in the Earned Income Tax Credit. The Senate approved the freeze, but the House has yet to act on it.
Matt Marsden, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop, R-Rochester, said the Senate has earmarked revenue from the tax credit freeze for K-12 schools, and the governor has not put forth a feasible plan to raise revenue to restore the grants.
The Michigan Promise program, which cost $80.5 million, provides $4,000 to students who passed all of their standardized tests in high school. They are to receive $1,000 per year as freshman and sophomores, paid out at $500 per term, and $2,000 after completing two years of college.
Students who don't qualify in high school can receive the scholarship after completing two years of college with a 2.5 grade point average.
Ferris, Michigan State University and Saginaw Valley will pay $500 in the fall term to all freshman and sophomore Promise students, using federal stimulus funds. No schools have volunteered to cover the $2,000 owed to many third-year students.
"We only had the money to do it for the fall semester," Ferris President David Eisler said. "This felt to us like the right thing to do for our students."
Central Michigan University, the University of Michigan and U-M Dearborn will cover the loss only for their highest need students, those who qualify for federal Pell grants. Officials at U-M Flint are discussing their options, spokesman Mel Serow said.
This is the first year in which some students would have qualified for the $2,000 payment to come in the third year of college. It was also the first year in which students who didn't qualify in high school would have become eligible by completing two years of college.
Ferris junior Kirsten Smith, 21, of Paw Paw was to get her final $2,000 payment this year.
"It meant a whole lot," Smith said. "Ferris covered the $500 for the students getting it for the first year, but the people who were getting the final payment just kind of got left out."
Western Michigan University and Grand Valley State University have not offered to make up the difference.
"Students have been billed for that, because we have more Promise grant recipients here than on any other campus," said Matt McLogan, vice president of university relations at Grand Valley. "The bill here is about $8 million for the Promise."
Sebastian Fryer, 19, of Plainwell has been covering the Promise Scholarship debate as a reporter for the WMU student newspaper, the Western Herald.
\A Promise scholar himself, he's noticed a growing disillusionment on campus as news that the scholarships aren't coming has sunk in.
"I'm hearing disappointment in Western, and dissatisfaction with the state government," Fryer said.
He said losing the scholarship is painful.
"I have two jobs, and I work really hard. Now I'm going to have to work harder," he said.
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Universities are deciding how to help 96,000 students cope with the loss of their Promise Scholarships.
Paying the bill
# Saginaw Valley, Ferris and Michigan State University are paying the full cost of replacing the scholarship for freshmen and sophomores for the fall term.
Paying for some
# The University of Michigan, U-M Dearborn and Central Michigan University will cover the cost for students with economic need for fall term; Lake Superior State University will pay half the cost for all Promise students.
Students on their own
# Western Michigan University, Grand Valley State University and Oakland University will not cover the loss of the Promise grant.
# Officials from Wayne State University, Eastern University and U-M Flint say they are considering options.
# Northern Michigan University will provide interest-free loans; Michigan Tech University did not respond.
Source: Detroit News research