Scholarship Program Wanes
from Gongwer News
Service, November 18, 2002
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A program created in 2000 to help low-income students earn
two-year associate degrees from community colleges is going
largely unused because its qualification requirements have
made far fewer students eligible than supporters anticipated.
This week, the House passed a bill removing $1.66 million of
the $2 million appropriated for the Postsecondary Access
Student Scholarship Program in 2001-02. A Senate Fiscal Agency
analysis issued when the 2002-03 community colleges budget was
passed in February said $1.5 million was expected to be needed
for the 2001-02 year, but ultimately just $315,000 was.
In 2000, Governor John Engler and the Legislature approved $10
million in funding for the PASS program as a way of assisting
students from low-income backgrounds in attaining two-year
associate's degrees. Qualifying students would have all their
tuition and fees, minus certain scholarships, grants and tax
credits, paid for. To qualify, a student must come from a
family with an income under $40,000 per year, have scored at
level one or level two on the Michigan Educational Assessment
Program test and be eligible for a Federal Pell Grant.
But in just three fiscal years, the program's funding has
shrunk considerably. The Legislature appropriated $10 million
for it in the 2000-01 fiscal year. Then it appropriated $5
million in the 2001-02 fiscal year and eventually shrunk that
amount to $2 million. Another $2 million has been made
available for the 2002-03 fiscal year. The funding comes from
the state's share of the national tobacco settlement.
Just 666 students at Michigan's community colleges used the
program during the 2001-02 fiscal year, and that was down from
799 in 2000-01, according to the Department of Treasury, which
administers the program.
"It's too restrictive, in my opinion," said Judy Florian,
director of financial aid at Macomb Community College. "I'm
not so sure there was a demand for the program to begin with."
At Macomb Community College, 36 students used the PASS program
out of the 22,000 at the school in 2001-02, according to
Treasury. The college has 4,500 students receiving some type
of financial aid, Ms. Florian said.
The program sees its highest use at those universities that
double as their region's community college: Ferris State, Lake
Superior State and Northern Michigan universities. Together,
those schools accounted for 41.4 percent of the students using
To bolster participation in the program, the 2001-02 community
colleges budget passed by the Legislature and signed by
Governor John Engler eliminated an age restriction that
greatly curbed the amount of potential aid to those older than
Deputy Treasurer Michael Boulus concurred that the program's
eligibility requirements have rendered the program
restrictive. Those who were in high school prior to 1997
automatically are ineligible because they either did not take
the MEAP or the record of their test scores no longer exists,
Mr. Boulus said. And the Pell grant, which takes precedent
before state programs, pays for most of what the PASS program
is geared to cover.
"The program is working, but the problem is that the
eligibility requirements are somewhat limiting," he said.
Mr. Boulus said the next logical step to making the program
more accessible is to allow students at four-year universities
to enroll. "If they're committed to the PASS program, they
need to loosen up the eligibility," he said of the next
governor and Legislature.