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 Article of Interest - Scholarship Information

P.A.S.S. 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 the program.

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 21.

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.

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