With the recent elimination of Michigan’s Promise Scholarship, universities across the state are struggling to find ways to compensate for the lack of funding.
The scholarship provided up to $4,000 for Michigan students who obtained a suitable score on the Michigan Merit Exam (MME) taken in high school to help pay for college. It was eliminated to help resolve a $2.8 billion state deficit. Students who had the scholarship this semester were surprised to find out that the money they were expecting for this semester was gone.
“There was a promise made to students and that’s an important thing,” said Mike Rotundo, director of financial aid at Northern. “I’m hoping that the legislature and the governor will be able to work things out and there will be some kind of continuation of the Michigan Promise Award.”
NMU’s solution to the problem was to create a loan that the approximately 1,200 students who had the Promise Scholarship at Northern could take advantage of. The loan is interest free if paid in full during the repayment period, and payments begin June 1, 2010. The loans are for up to $2,000, depending on how much money the students were originally eligible for. There is a $5 late fee for each installment not paid in full when due.
“Since this dragged on so long with the state and the decision was made so late, I just want students to know there is something out there,” said Steve Bigalk, coordinator of the student service center and director of financial services. “I was in the room when different scenarios were kicked around and I tried to put the pieces together for the loan program, what I thought kind of made sense.”
Recently, Gov. Granholm, who has been supportive of the program, has been going around the state visiting universities, trying to urge students to lobby against senators and representatives to help reinstate the program.
“I guess I’m still hoping, not just as an employee here, but as a taxpayer, that they’ll find money for this program. Whenever, next month, next year,” said Bigalk. “It’s too bad it was called the Promise Scholarship.”
Many other schools across the state have come up with different solutions to the problem.
Grand Valley State University sent out e-mails to their students in September warning them that the Promise Scholarship funding might fall through and notifying them of the money they may owe. GVSU President Thomas J. Haas said in the e-mail that he was “disappointed beyond words” that the university would have to bill their students for the money that was promised by the state. Now that the scholarship is officially gone, those students will have to pay that money.
Michigan Technological University decided to pay the amounts their students were expecting for the fall semester. They compensated for the Promise Scholarship with money from their scholarship fund that already existed.
“We don’t want to penalize students for a bill that was supposedly paid for already,” said Michael Roose, assistant director of financial aid at Michigan Tech.
Gavin Leach, vice president of finance and administration, said that the loan program was the best solution for Northern of all the alternatives they considered.
“Obviously, it’s the state that reneged on what they should provide to the students and what they agreed to,” said Leach. “We’ve been looking from the time in the summer when we started to get word that the funding might be lost. We looked at a way to handle it. Some schools just said, you have to owe it either way. We looked at what we could provide our students.”
Leach said that although times are difficult right now, he hopes that the state will come up for funding for the Promise Scholarship.
“We think the state should come through for the students because it’s the right thing to do. Hopefully they’re able to find a way to fund the program. Especially for the students who were due money this fall already,” Leach said.
Junior zoology major Zoe Davison was expecting the money for this semester applied for the loan when she first heard of it, and said it was a better option than having to pay for it immediately.
“I think it’s a shame that we had to come to the loan situation. I wish the money that was promised to me was there, because I already have enough student loans,” said Davison. “But it’s definitely better than nothing and I’m glad the school came up for it.”
Davison said she is paying her way through school and was disappointed when she realized she’d have to pay additional money.
“Since I know NMU doesn’t have the money to just give it to students, I think this is a good alternative that we get to have this loan. Especially since it’s interest free,” Davison said.