No promise in scholarship plan

Granholm should call proposal what it is — a tax break
When is a scholarship not a scholarship? When it’s a tax break.

Gov. Jennifer Granholm reintroduced the Michigan Promise Scholarship, a program she renamed and ratcheted up in 2006, in her new budget, but the proposal didn’t come anywhere near resembling a scholarship.

The $120 million program, which Michigan students qualify for by passing standardized tests while in high school, was eliminated from the 2009-10 budget by lawmakers as part of the cuts needed to reduce a looming $2.8 billion deficit. That stranded more than 96,000 students who had started college two months earlier expecting to receive the money. Several universities picked up the difference by using federal stimulus money, but many students were left footing the bill.

Under the renewed Promise Scholarship plan, students still will be footing the bill.

As announced Feb. 11, the $4,000 scholarship will now be a $4,000 refundable tax credit — but only if the graduates work in Michigan for at least a year after they graduate.

In addition, Granholm’s 2010-11 budget would eliminate the $39-million Tuition Grant program that assists private college students.

The state is in bad economic shape, but what’s the point of eliminating scholarships at a time when students need them most? At a time when the state needs a highly educated work force more than any other time in its history?

It’s no secret that no one is going to walk out of high school and into a high paying auto manufacturing job — or any other family supporting job — in this state.

Granholm and state lawmakers have made it clear they expect high school students to work harder and perform at higher levels beginning with the Class of 2011. The new requirements were put in place so that Michigan students will be able to compete in a global, knowledge-based economy. It also is an investment in the state’s future, enhancing its ability to attract employers looking for skilled workers.

But lawmakers aren’t willing to help students continue their education despite the fact students will need more than a high school degree to successfully compete for jobs. Reports have indicated that the number of jobs for people with associates degrees is growing much faster than for those who only have a high school diploma.

Reports also say that one reason many students don’t make it beyond one year of college is money.

With high school and college graduation rates at an all-time high across the country — 85 percent of those 25 and older have completed at least high school and 27 percent have a college degree — Michigan is hard pressed to keep up.

Across the state, 25 percent of residents age 25 and older have a bachelor’s degree, and 27 percent have taken some college courses.

Again, money is definitely part of the issue.

The revised Promise Scholarship is expected to cost the state $31 million in the next fiscal year and $161 million by 2019, according to the state Department of Treasury. It’s a pittance when compared to many other programs supported by tax dollars.

We urge lawmakers to rewrite Granholm’s proposal and turn it into a real scholarship.

As Grand Valley State President Thomas Haas told students last fall, eliminating the scholarship is “stealing from our future to pay for the present.”