By BROOKE KANSIER
Capital News Service
LANSING — People who never got the chance to finish their degree just might if a proposal in Gov. Rick Snyder’s budget to renew funding for an education grant is approved.
The Independent Part-Time Student Grant was discontinued in 2009 during a budget crisis. But the governor’s $6 million proposal to revive the grant could mean a big difference for students who never finished their community college degree.
“There’s a significant number of these people, they start and for whatever reason, don’t finish with a degree,” said Michael Hansen, president of the Michigan Community College Association. “Maybe because you ran out of money, because life things got in the way.”
Michigan has 28 community colleges. The revival of the grant coupled with a budget increase from Snyder could make degrees at these institutions even more affordable. That is the goal of the institutions, said Matthew Miller, of Mid Michigan Community College.
“Community college is based on access and affordability,” said Miller, the college’s vice president of student and community relations.
Hansen says that a return of the grant in 2016 could give former students an incentive to return to school and complete a degree — also giving them a boost in the current job market.
“This scholarship would hopefully encourage them to come back and take the remaining credits they need,” he said. “We know that a certificate or degree has value in the labor market and should help those students get better jobs.”
Eligibility for the revived grant would be narrowed from the earlier version, when it was available to students pursuing a variety of degrees at a variety of institutions. The new version would be available exclusively to those attending community college. The proposal kept its original requirement that students must be at least two years out of high school, although this does not include GED programs.
“There’s a large number of those returning students,” said Miller. “They just realize that they need that skill to get the job they want, to support their family.”
Having a degree makes applicants more appealing to potential employers and gives a person more qualifications to open up a wider array of careers. Statistically, graduates also earn more money than those who skip college — a U.S. Census Bureau study in 2011 concluded that those who had a degree on average earned nearly twice as much as people who didn’t throughout their lifetimes.
“A degree helps you not only get your foot in the door, but can help you land jobs,” said Eric Greene, director of public information and marketing at Kellogg Community College. “Just in general, higher education makes you more employable.”
The grant was created in 1986 to help part-time students, or those taking three to eleven credit hours per semester. It was cut during the Granholm era in the midst of a budget crisis.
Hansen said the amount of aid per semester — originally $600 per student — will likely increase, although it is unclear by how much.
The $600 wouldn’t go very far today, he said.
While the distribution could vary, the money will likely be given to community colleges, which would determine dispersal and scholarships, Hansen said. The colleges would most likely prioritize people who were closest to earning a degree.
The proposed return of the grant is part of a major emphasis by Snyder on two-year degree programs. He has proposed a budget increase of 1.4 percent — or $4.3 million — for community colleges and recently announced $50 million in grants to 18 community colleges to help with skilled trades instruction.
The governor’s tentative budget also includes increased state support for K-12 education and universities, including a 2 percent increase for universities and an emphasis on third grade reading improvement.
“He certainly has made community colleges an emphasis, and we certainly think that’s important,” said Hansen.
By BROOKE KANSIER