College Scholarships in Limbo in Tussle over 'Promise'

College Scholarships in Limbo in Tussle over 'Promise'
Marisa Schultz / The Detroit News

August 17, 2009

More than 96,000 students will head to college campuses in the next few weeks still unsure of whether the state will honor their Michigan Promise Scholarship awards.

The students earned the state-funded merit scholarship -- worth up to $4,000 -- but lawmakers in Lansing haven't come up with the money for the program.

"Our kids, who are responsible for a majority of their college bills, are counting on that money," said Lee Vandenbussche of Milford, whose sons, Brett and Grant, attend Michigan State University.

"They have letters from the state of Michigan 'promising' it to them."

Facing a $1.8 billion state deficit, the Senate voted in June to kill the $140 million program, but the House and the governor's versions of the higher education budget include funding for the popular scholarship.

The three sides must work out a compromise on how to balance the budget before the Oct. 1 fiscal year begins. They haven't yet agreed upon the amount of targeted cuts and whether to raise new revenue.

Gov. Jennifer Granholm's spokeswoman, Liz Boyd, said: "The governor has made it clear that she is opposed to elimination of the Michigan Promise Scholarship."

Classes at some colleges start as early as next week, and lawmakers have been on summer recess until this week. The uncertainty is increasing anxiety among families and has frustrated colleges officials who
had offered financial aid packages assuming a portion of tuition was covered by the scholarship.

"That puts our students in a very difficult situation," said Al Hermsen, director of the Office of Student Financial Aid at Wayne State University.

Officials there will credit students' accounts for the scholarship, and if the state pulls the plug on the program, they'll decide whether to ask students to come up with the difference.

Vandenbussche's sons rely on loans for college tuition and savings from their full-time summer jobs. But with a combined $6,000 potential loss from the scholarships, they've taken on side jobs.

"They have sacrificed quite a bit this summer, and I think they'll hit their mark," Vandenbussche said.

Courtney McRill, an MSU student who is counting on the Promise Scholarship, wrote a letter to Granholm in June protesting the proposed elimination. While he views Granholm's support of the Promise Scholarship as positive, he hoped for a strong assurance in the response letter he received last week that she would veto legislation that slashed any of the scholarship money.

"Our academic careers sit in limbo, suspended in the arena of political inertia," McRill, of Grosse Pointe Park, said of thousands of scholarship recipients.

"Perhaps the lawmakers and governor should be called to answer our petitions and pleas at one of those town hall meetings that seem all the rage at the national level." (313) 222-2310

Posted on Monday, August 17, 2009 (Archive on Monday, August 24, 2009)
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