By ELIZABETH FERGUSON
Capital News Service
LANSING — As college financial aid deadlines loom, Michigan officials are working to get the word out about increased help available from the state and universities this year.
“We work throughout the year to promote aid and financial aid, but this is definitely a busy time of the year,” said Shannon Price, coordinator of outreach services at Michigan’s Student Financial Services Bureau, part of the Michigan Department of Treasury.
This year, Michigan has $105 million in state-appropriated scholarships and grants for students. All are need-based, and some require other qualifications such as test scores. Last year, more than 73,000 students received state scholarships and grants, according to Price.
As the cost of attending college rises, students rely on financial aid opportunities. The average tuition rate for a Michigan undergraduate student is $11,452 for this academic year, according to the Michigan House Fiscal Agency.
In 2008 and 2009, the state cut financial aid, canceling some programs like the Michigan Promise, a merit-based scholarship of up to $4,000 per student. Since 2010, funding for existing need-based financial aid programs has steadily increased. Support is up about 5 percent since 2013.
Students must apply by March 1 for the Michigan Competitive Scholarship, the program that helps the most students. The program awarded scholarships based on need and ACT scores to about 31,000 students in 2014, down from 34,000 in 2010.
More students are eligible for aid than the state has the funding for, according to Ann Wohlfert, director of the Student Financial Services Bureau. The increase in state support has not yet made up for the cuts made six years ago.
While the overall amount of aid and the maximum limits have increased, fewer students are getting larger awards. This year, students attending a public university or college can get a maximum of $676 from the Michigan Competitive Scholarship.
Other major state scholarships include the Tuition Incentive Program program, which awarded nearly $46 million in 2014 to students who had been on Medicaid assistance, and the Michigan Tuition Grant, which gave more than $32 million to students attending private colleges and universities in the state.
The state has also started a new scholarship program and brought back an old one.
The Fostering Futures Scholarship is a new state-funded scholarship for foster youth. This award amount varies based on need and other aid the student is receiving.
The Michigan Nursing Scholarship, a previously canceled program, is a need-based scholarship of $4,000 for undergraduate and master’s students studying nursing. University and college financial aid offices will award this state funded scholarship to students.
The state bureau expands its outreach this time of year to raise awareness about the Michigan Competitive Scholarship deadline and these new available scholarships.
University financial aid offices are also doing their part to educate current and future college students about the financial aid process and upcoming deadlines.
Grand Valley State University’s Financial Aid Office is committed to providing the financial aid students need and educating students about aid opportunities, according to Michelle Rhodes, the school’s director of financial aid.
Since 2010, GVSU-funded financial aid has increased more than $12 million, or 46 percent, including 8 percent in the last year. Last year, the average GVSU student received $4,000 in total financial aid.
Both the state and universities offer online and in-person resources that help students navigate the application process.
The state bureau uses social media, YouTube and webcasts to educate as many students and parents as possible about financial aid opportunities available. The bureau educates high school students, as well as younger students, including elementary schoolers. It’s never too early to start thinking about college finances, Price said.
GVSU’s financial aid office also uses social media and online resources and holds classes and workshops about financial aid and personal finances. Students can learn how to better manage their money, credit cards, and loans through online learning, individual counseling and on-campus presentations.
At Northern Michigan University, the office of financial aid offers extended office hours in the upcoming weeks so busy students can meet these financial aid deadlines at their convenience, said Mike Rotundo, director of financial aid at NMU.
His office also holds financial aid nights for high school students in the community and financial aid workshops on campus.
Both Northern Michigan and Grand Valley State capitalize on the state of Michigan’s March 1 deadline. Northern Michigan refers to this as a priority date, to encourage students to apply to both state and university aid before this day.
GVSU has made this date its formal university financial aid deadline to make the process easier for students, according to Rhodes.
For more information about Michigan financial aid programs visit:
By ELIZABETH FERGUSON