By HYONHEE SHIN
Capital News Service
LANSING – High school graduates might get more opportunities for free college tuition and vocational training through a proposed amendment to the state Constitution.
The proposal by Rep. Fred Durhal Jr., D-Detroit, would establish and fund a program to reimburse high school graduates for the costs of undergraduate tuition and vocational training at universities and community colleges.
Roger Rathburn, Three Rivers Community Schools superintendent, said anything that can be done to reduce college costs is worth considering.
“It would be unfortunate to see costs become a barrier for many young adults to further their education,” he said.
“I’m not surprised to see more and more students completing their first two years of college at community colleges and then transferring to four-year institutions due to the significant cost savings,” Rathburn said.
Lon Huffman, manager of public relations and marketing at Glen Oaks Community College, said he is in favor of the proposal.
“Books alone can cost up to $500 a semester,” he said. “The problems with funding college for students are very evident and causing many students and their families to scramble for funds.”
Enrollment at Glen Oaks went up 12 percent this fall compared to last year, and it’s up 20 percent compared to fall 2007, Huffman said.
“Many students have decided on community colleges for their first two years due to the financial crisis,” he said.
Under the proposed amendment, high school graduates would be required to perform one year of volunteer or community service to receive benefits.
Huffman said the proposal sounds noble because it would involve students in public work, volunteerism and community service.
“People needed job training,” he said. “They would learn a lot about life and get a feel for vocations.”
But Huffman emphasized that the training needs to be useful and transparent as possible.
“It should be easy to enroll in and offer convenient classes,” he said. “If too many conditions are put on those who can take training, then it may not get people into training as soon as they need it.
“In Southwest Michigan, agriculture is a very big employer much of the year, so people who live in cities may not know much about farm work. Those people might be able to use skills in trades that would make them employable or so they can begin a new business like painting, cement work, or carpentry,” he said.
Rathburn also mentioned the need to improve existing training programs.
“Seems many of the vocational programs that exist need some retooling, and new ones created should reflect the job market and where the jobs are,” he said.
The proposed program would be funded in part from new special lottery revenue.
Huffman said his only concern is whether the program might generate another layer of government oversight or more administrators, which will cost taxpayers more money.
Rathburn said he has some doubts about its practicality, considering current economic conditions.
“I’m not sure where all the money would come from to support such a bill, especially in a poor economy,” he said.
A constitutional amendment must pass both the House and Senate and then be approved by the voters in a statewide election.