Michigan’s big flaw in jobs strategy

Contact: Judy Putnam at (517) 487-5436

LANSING, Mich. – As more than 750,000 Michigan public college students prepare to start a new school year, one group is finding it harder than ever to participate: Older adults.

Michigan offers no financial aid grants to attend a public university or community college for those who graduated from high school more than 10 years ago.

Two of Michigan’s three higher education grants are aimed at students who graduated a decade or less ago, according to a new policy brief from the Michigan League for Public Policy. And the third one can only be used at private institutions, which are generally more expensive.

“We know that postsecondary education is so important in today’s economy. Helping older workers sharpen their skills or pursue studies leading to in-demand jobs will help Michigan’s economy,’’ said Gilda Z. Jacobs, president and CEO of the Michigan League for Public Policy.

The League’s report, State Financial Aid Leaves Adult Learners Behind, shows that financial aid grants that once helped older students have disappeared as Michigan made recession-era cuts to higher education. Those eliminated were the Adult Part-Time Grant, the Michigan Education Opportunity Grant, the Michigan Nursing Scholarship and a state Work-Study program.

That leaves three major grants: The Tuition Incentive Program, aimed at students from low-income families, and the Michigan Competitive Scholarship, which are only available for 10 years after high school graduation while the third, the Michigan Tuition Grant, does not set a post-graduation limit but is only available for attending private, not-for-profit institutions.

Michigan has three routes to repair the big flaw in its workforce development strategy:

• Restore one of the programs that was discontinued in 2010 aimed at serving older students.
• Modify the timetable for one or both of the remaining public institution scholarships so they could be used for part-time students or for short-term occupational programs.
• Implement a state Work-Study program that connects low-income adult students to paid employment that is directly relevant to the course of study. (This should not be the only policy response because many older students cannot fit work-study into their work and family schedules.)

“Leaving older workers out of financial aid programs is a flaw in Michigan’s workforce development strategy that needs to be fixed,’’ Jacobs said. “The health of our economy depends on workers getting the skills they need to become productive employees and support their families.’’

The report may be found online.

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The Michigan League for Public Policy, www.mlpp.org, is a nonpartisan policy institute focused on economic opportunity for all. It is the only state-level organization that addresses poverty in a comprehensive way.