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Posted on Wed, Sep 23, 2009 : 5:27 p.m.

Michigan Promise likely broken as financial aid appeals hit record levels

By Juliana Keeping

Nearly 8,400 college students in Washtenaw County stand to lose significant tuition cash from the slashing of a statewide scholarship program.

The potential loss comes at a time when hundreds more students at local colleges and universities are filing last-minute appeals for more aid, financial aid directors say.

Today, a joint House-Senate committee voted to eliminate the Michigan Promise scholarship program. That means the Legislature will be voting on a higher education budget that doesn't include $140 million of Promise money.

Statewide, 96,000 undergraduates stand to lose as much as $4,000 each for college.

Michigan lawmakers have until midnight Sept. 30 to hammer out a state budget.

Last year, Washtenaw Community College, Eastern Michigan University and the University of Michigan fronted the cash for Promise recipients and were later reimbursed by the state. This semester, students at the local institutions have to pay what those scholarships would have provided or apply for more aid if they don't have it.

At WCC, 660 students stand to lose Promise money; at EMU, about 1,700 students; and at U-M, 6,096 students.

Cynthia Van Pelt, EMU's financial aid director, said her office sent two e-mails to let students know the program could be scrapped. But complaints about losing that money have been few and far between.

Van Pelt said she expects to hear more about the Promise grants when fall bills must be paid in November.

"They're encouraged to pay the bill if they can, and if they aren't able to and need money now, they can contact us to see if they're eligible for additional student loan funding," Van Pelt said. "Not everyone can get a student loan increase. The federal government has limits on how much a student can receive in any year, and some students are already at that limit."

At the same time, hundreds more families are reporting last-minute losses of income, Van Pelt said, including some whose yearly incomes have plummeted from from six figures to zero.

The number of loss-of-income appeals filed at EMU through last week exceeds the number of appeals filed over the entire 2008-2009 school year, Van Pelt said. So far this fall, the financial aid office received 330 appeals; all of last year, only 260 appeals were filed, Van Pelt said.

After an appeal is filed, a committee re-examines the student's financial aid package and determines whether he or she is eligible for more funding.

In-state undergraduate tuition and fees at EMU is $8,377.

Almost 700 students at WCC might feel the loss of Promise grant money more sharply - scholarships have covered a large amount of some local students' $1,920 yearly tuition, said Lori Trapp, financial aid director.

Beginning in 2007, students who met or exceeded state standards on the Michigan Merit exams could earn $1,000 during their freshman year and $1,000 in the sophomore year from Promise grants. Students have to maintain a 2.5 grade point average by end of their sophomore year to receive the remaining $2,000.

"I did talk to a few students," Trapp said. "For us, that $1,000 covers a semester's tuition and books. Students have had to come up with other means to pay. Maybe they got a loan or are eligible for other grants, I don't know."

At WCC, appeals for more financial aid are four times higher than last year; about 100 students have filed appeals so far, Trapp said.

At U-M, where in-state undergraduate tuition and fees cost $11,659 a year, spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said financial aid appeals are up 30 percent to 40 percent.

Though they may lose out on state, merit-based Promise money, some of the same students might qualify for additional Pell Grant funding from the federal government - if they show enough need. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act increased Pell Grant funding by $17 billion, increasing the maximum award from $4,850 to $5,350.

Financial aid offices have doled out millions more in Pell Grants this year, directors say, and more students have qualified since the program was expanded this year.

But not all students who may lose out on the merit-based Promise grants are eligible through the expanded Pell Grant program. At U-M, for example, only 1,717 of 6,096 students who were to be awarded Promise money demonstrate financial need.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Juliana Keeping covers higher education for Reach her at or 734-623-2528. Follow Juliana Keeping on Twitter



Wed, Sep 30, 2009 : 9:21 a.m.

The students and their parents don't have lobbyists to buy the votes of the legislators with campaign contributions.

Juliana Keeping

Thu, Sep 24, 2009 : 4:40 p.m.

11GOBLUE, You are right. The tobacco settlement cash had been paying for the program. While the money is still coming in, some lawmakers would rather put it toward the almost $3 billion budget hole.


Thu, Sep 24, 2009 : 4:34 p.m.

I thought the Michigan Promise was supposed have been funded with the settlement funds from the tobacco lawsuit. Whatever happened to that money? When Granholm chose to make this promise, she should have put those settlement funds in the vault.


Thu, Sep 24, 2009 : 2:41 p.m.

the Michigan Promise scholarship makes the most difference for kids like my daughters who are attending EMU and WCC. for many kids at the community colleges and local colleges the scholarship pays a big % of tuition. Many of the students there are from less affluent families. Also, it is too late to get any decent financial aid for this term. This is all a case of misplaced priorities.


Thu, Sep 24, 2009 : 2:29 p.m.

Just to clarify. The proposal to which I am referring is by the Republicans to eliminate the Promise Scholarship. In their anti-tax fervor they are taking a cut only approach to the budget, ignoring how this cut is in effect a tax on parents with college students. We are paying $4,000 to balance budget.


Thu, Sep 24, 2009 : 1:19 p.m.

This was all Granholm (,1607,7-192-29939-158935--,00.html). I think it's bad too, but I also realize there are many many many more promises that are going to be broken by our government in the next several years.


Thu, Sep 24, 2009 : 1:05 p.m.

Elimination of the Michigan Promise Scholarship? Is this the message we want to give the next generation this is what a promise is worth? How can we go back on that promise? This proposal was offered by anti-tax Republicans and backed by weak Democrats. Withdrawing the grant is, in effect, a $4,000 tax on those of us with children in college!


Thu, Sep 24, 2009 : 10:32 a.m.

This is fraud-plain and simple. Granholm offered this scholarship, the students took the test and qualified. NOWHERE did it state that it is need based and the rules can't change now. The state should be ashmed of itself-no wonder our young people are leaving Michigan as fast as they can. I have finally accepted the fact that politicians are liars.


Thu, Sep 24, 2009 : 9:28 a.m.

brightsib - You should look into a 529 plan for college savings because the earnings can be pulled out tax free if used for certain college expenses (check out There are also pre-paid plans that lock in current tuition levels, but my personal opinion is that these plans will likely have insufficient funds to pay all the benefits they owe when needed - as has happened in other states because investment growth couldn't keep up with tuition increases. On this article, I think governments just got too fat in the boom years, and the unfortunate reality is the spending needs to recede to pre-boom levels. Also, this program was a political stunt by the Michigan government, modeled after what was done by a private organization in the Kalamazoo area. I understood the generosity of the private individuals, but the government using taxpayer dollars to do the same thing and gain political points I found dispicable. Private donations to schools and scholarships are more logical.


Thu, Sep 24, 2009 : 2:57 a.m.

My view of any politics is this: Whoever lies the best gets into office. I have never been disappointed because I know they are liars. I wanted to start a Promise account for my granddaughter, but I looked at Granholm and laughed. I put my money and bought CDs. I see how she does nothing but run this state into the ground, but I'm supposed to smile and trust her with my money? If she can't run Michigan how can she run Promise, which is less difficult??


Wed, Sep 23, 2009 : 8:06 p.m.

A2Dave, Because so many Michigan college grads leave the state immediately after graduation, the Michigan Promise is essentially a subsidy to other states. Until the necessary cuts are made by the Michigan Legislature to ensure long-term fiscal soundness, there is no chance of being able to make the Michigan business tax climate more competitive. Basically what I am saying is that if Michigan wants to have any chance at retaining a significant amount of its "homegrown" talent in the future, deep and lasting cuts have to be made now.


Wed, Sep 23, 2009 : 7:28 p.m.

Politicians will promise anything to get reelected. This is just the beginning of what they have promised that they (we) can no longer afford.


Wed, Sep 23, 2009 : 6:27 p.m.

Infuriating! Beginning in middle school and all through high school my daughter was "promised" a small scholarship fund from the State of Michigan if she completed the MEAP exams and attended a Michigan college. Lo and behold at the young age of 19 she finds out that politicians are nothing but liars. Typical Michigan politics. I'm glad she can vote in the next election.


Wed, Sep 23, 2009 : 5:56 p.m.

"Just another brick in the wall" between Michigan and the economic competitiveness of its human resources. This is how the Republicans in the State Senate think best to help Michigan businesses?