Let’s keep it affordable for our state’s sake

Added November 20th, 2012 by Peter Ruark | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Peter Ruark

College tuition has doubled in the past decade, student debt is becoming unmanageable, and students with limited income have less grant aid available than before. That is not a winning prescription for making sure Michigan’s workers have the skills to compete in the 21st century economy.

As shown in a new Michigan League for Public Policy report, Keeping It Affordable in Michigan, Michigan used to have up to eight state-funded need-based grant programs, but now has only three. Two of the remaining grants, the Michigan Competitive Scholarship and the Michigan Tuition Grant, have reduced their maximum awards and the number of students awarded.

Much of the cut in state grant aid happened in 2010, when the Legislature eliminated the Adult Part-Time Grant, the Michigan Educational Opportunity Grant, Michigan Work-Study, the Michigan Nursing Scholarship, and most of the Michigan Merit Award.  The first three of these were need-based grants.

While other Midwest states have stepped up to the challenge of investing in helping students and their families afford the costs of postsecondary education, Michigan has gone in the opposite direction.  Seven other Midwest states increased the amount of financial aid grant money during the past 10 years, two by more than double. The nation as a whole increased its state grant award money by 84%.

Michigan, on the other hand, cut its grant awards by 20% percent. Michigan is last among the nine Midwest states in state grant dollars per population and per full-time enrollment, and second-to-last in need-based grant dollars per full-time enrollment. In grant expenditures as a percentage of fiscal support for higher education, Michigan is also last.

These decisions have consequences. Less than three out of 20 full-time undergraduate students receive state grants, putting Michigan down near the bottom of the list nationally. The number of Michigan students receiving state financial aid grants fell from 175,816 in 2005 to 74,059 in 2011—a 58% decline.

It is likely that many students did not complete their degree or certificate programs because sorely needed financial aid was not available. It has become popular, in light of cuts to programs that further the social good, to wring hands and say that the state can no longer afford to help people as much as it has in the past. Such logic is not taking into account the importance of a skilled populace to Michigan’s economic future, as an increasing number of jobs will require a postsecondary credential.

Do we really want—or need—to make these cuts to our workforce development to balance the state budget? If Michigan wants to be competitive, attract job providers and encourage entrepreneurism, we must invest in our brain trust.

—  Peter Ruark

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