By Victor Skinner

Students at Baker College in Muskegon are scrambling to scrounge thousands in extra tuition mid school year after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer vetoed two scholarships that were baked into the state budget for decades. 

Whitmer eliminated the $2,400 per year Michigan Tuition Grant and reduced Michigan Competitive Scholarship from $2,400 to $1,000 for about 17,000 students attending the state’s 30 private colleges through a series of line item vetoes in late September. 

The cuts are among $38 million the Democrat governor slashed from the higher education budget passed by the Republican-controlled legislature amid disagreements on state funding. 

Baker College of Muskegon President Aaron Maike spoke with Muskegon’s 100.9 FM about what the situation means for students at his school, and how he anticipates the decision will impact the broader community. 

Maike said the Michigan Tuition Grant “has been around supporting students who choose independent, not for profit education in the state of Michigan since the 60s.”

“We had 2,400 or more student who would have qualified for this need-based grant,” he said. “The state has a calculation for this grant, it’s based off the federal financial aid application and they calculate the need and say whether or not students qualify and are eligible for this based on financial need, so this is going to impact students’ ability to pay for their education.”

Maike explained that the grant is factored into students’ projected tuition for the current school year, which means Whitmer’s last minute veto leaves them looking for ways to come up with the extra cash, such as loans or credit cards. 

“Ten-thousand dollars over four years, and likely students will be taking out additional student loans if this funding is not put back into the budget,” he said. 

The cuts come as students are studying and preparing for finals in December. 

“The students (were) six weeks into the semester” when they learned about Whitmer’s cuts, Maike said. “They’re knee-deep in their classes and now they have to worry about $2,400 for this year.”

“It’s a topic of conversation across campus, everyone’s aware of how the governor’s decision will impact our students,” he said. “It’s over 2,400 students at Baker College. It’s absolutely devastating to our students.”

In total, the grant cuts will impact nearly 17,000 students across the state, including more than 6,000 first-generation college students, over 200 military veterans and more than 5,600 students over the age of 25. Just under a third of all students receiving state financial aid depend on the grants, Baker officials said. 

And while the cuts do not impact public college students, several other private schools in West Michigan are also scrambling to repair the damage from Whitmer’s veto. 

About 900 students at Hope College lost a combined $1.7 million in financial aid, according to the Holland Sentinel

In other places, like Alma College in mid-Michigan, more than half of the school’s 1,400 students depend on the Michigan Tuition Scholarship to afford tuition, officials told the Detroit Free Press

“Many students who don’t qualify for federal financial aid qualify for this and use it,” Alma College President Jeff Abernathy told the news site. “This is going to be a hardship.”

Whitmer’s office did not respond to a request for comment from 100.9 FM, but a spokeswoman told the Free Press in early October that the governor’s vetoes are designed to force further budget negotiations with Republicans in the legislature. 

“We understand the value that the tuition grant program provides in supporting scholarships for student attending Michigan’s independent college and universities,” Whitmer spokeswoman Tiffany Brown said. “The governor does not relish having to make these vetoes, but the bottom line is that tough decisions had to be made across all the budgets, including higher education, in an effort to get the legislature back to the table to negotiate a real budget that will move Michigan forward.”

Whitmer’s cuts have drawn a strong backlash from the education community and other elected officials, including Congressmen Bill Huizenga, Fred Upton, John Moolenaar, Tim Walberg and Paul Mitchell, who sent Whitmer a joint letter in October urging her to reconsider. 

“While $2,400 may not seem substantial to some people, in the hands of a struggling student and family, this grant can mean the difference between continuing their education, having to withdraw from school, or having to take out additional loans and saddle themselves with deeper debt,” the wrote. 

The politicians also warned about the broader fallout from divesting in higher education, including impacts on tax revenue, spending on public assistance and the economy in general – a message Maike repeatedly stressed in his conversation with Muskegon’s 100.9 FM. 

Maike urged West Michigan listeners to contact Whitmer and their representatives in Lansing. 

“Contact them, let them know that you’re concerned about this and how it impacts our community, because it’s going to have a long term impact on students, them getting a degree and coming out qualified for the jobs we have available right now,” he said. 

“And there’s more than 1,000 jobs open right now, just here in Muskegon,” Maike said. “So this is going to make that gap even larger.”

Both Democrat and Republican lawmakers have introduced legislation to replace the lost funding, but legislative leaders told the Associated Press after a meeting with Whitmer in mid-October that they’re now shifting to non-budget issues. 

Brown, Whitmer’s spokeswoman, told MLive the governor “will continue to hold time on her schedule each day if the Speaker and Senate Majority Leader want to negotiate a supplemental” spending plan. 

The standoff leaves students in a lurch and education on the back burner, an interesting situation for a governor who campaigned on a promise to improve education in Michigan, Maike noted. 

“Her priorities were roads and education, and you can’t forsake one for the other,” he said. “It’s going to impact employers … it could have a domino impact across the state of Michigan.”

 

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