By KENZIE TERPSTRA
Capital News Service
LANSING – Most students who graduated from Michigan high schools this year are now eligible for a new state scholarship program, though many parents and students aren’t aware of it, according to a university association.
The Michigan Achievement Scholarship program was created to increase higher education affordability and opportunity.
The state is providing $250 million for scholarships this year, more than double the $117 million of need-based aid awarded during the 2020-21 academic year, according to the House Fiscal Agency and National Association of State Student Grant & Aid Programs.
To qualify for the scholarship, students must:
- Graduate from high school or earn a general education certificate in 2023 or later.
- Complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.
- Have an expected family contribution of $25,000 or less.
- Enroll full time at an eligible in-state institution or private training program within 15 months of graduation.
Scholarships range from $2,000 to $5,500 a year, depending on the type of in-state program students enroll in.
Robert LeFevre, the president of Michigan Independent Colleges and Universities, said an estimated 80% of students who graduated from high school in the class of 2023 are eligible for funding.
“There are a number of studies that show what can happen when you increase financial aid — both for the state’s long-term workforce and also for increasing enrollment,” LeFevre said.
The financial aid boost comes after a 39.4% increase in average tuition costs over the last decade, according to the House Fiscal Agency.
“The Michigan Achievement Scholarship provides a 31% – 45% discount on tuition, depending on the university,” said Daniel Hurley, the CEO of the Michigan Association of State Universities, representing public institutions.
Despite an overall decline in the number of college students in the state, some Michigan universities have had significant increases in enrollment this fall.
For example, Grand Valley State University reported a record incoming class of 4,974 students — nearly 25% larger than last year’s. Michigan State set a new record in its number of undergraduates, more than 40,400. And Calvin University welcomed 1,150 new students this year, a 15% increase compared to last year.
Data reflecting on whether the scholarship program is responsible for enrollment increases won’t be available until later this fall.
Hurley said he felt frustrated that the state’s 2022-23 higher education budget had no money for marketing the scholarship program.
In fact, only 23% of Michigan adults are aware of the program, according to Hurley.
Hurley said marketing dollars for the program’s first year would have had a bigger impact on students and their families who could benefit from it.
Meanwhile, high schools are making an effort to relay financial aid opportunities to their students.
AdviseMI, an AmeriCorps program hosted by the Michigan College Access Network, places college graduates in selected high schools to serve as college advisers. These advisers work alongside counselors and other school professionals to support students as they explore their postsecondary options.
Tess O’Neal, an AmeriCorps member serving with the AdviseMI initiative in Ludington High School and a graduate of the school, said that it’s a “team effort” to provide information about financial aid opportunities among institutions, high schools, students and parents .
“Talking to students face-to-face in what I called micro-advising appointments was the best way to share information about the program,” O’Neal said.
At Ludington High School, all seniors meet individually with their counselor and O’Neal to go over how to prepare for college and the steps necessary to apply for college, including completion of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.
O’Neal said that while the new financial application process was unfamiliar to students, postsecondary institutions also faced obstacles with implementing the program.
For example, some colleges were unsure about how to package the scholarship along with other possible financial aid offered by the institution, she said.
The Michigan College Access Network brings data from high schools involved with AdviseMI and postsecondary institutions to policymakers to shape future initiatives, according to its website.