Turning away scholarships

If you build it, they will come, but, if you offer high school kids a hefty bonus for going to college, many won’t come.

Such is the rather amazing finding that, despite a state scholarship program dangling upwards of $5,500 a year for those who attend a four-year university, 62% of last year’s high school graduating class found something else to do rather than pursue a higher education.

That was much to the chagrin of Michigan’s governor, who wants to see 60% of the state’s population carrying around a sheepskin by the year 2030.

The number is now at 51%.

Lawmakers have pumped a respectful $550 million into the Michigan Achievement Scholarship, offering $2,750 to community college students, $4,000 to those who go to private higher ed schools, and between $2,500 and $5,500 for those attending one of the state’s 15 universities.

But the widely respected think tank Michigan Citizens Research Council discovered that, out of the 99,000 high school grads from last year, only 27,800 took advantage of the higher ed freebie.

“It’s a little too early to pre-judge the program not being successful but so far the data shows the new scholarships have not turned the trend around,” Citizens Research Council researcher Robert Schnieder reported, while adding that the program currently gets an “incomplete grade.”

The problem, of course, with taking an “I” is that the program could go either way — i.e., into the dumper or skyrocket to success.

There are a number of variables in play, here, that help one understand the downward trend.

In the year 2008, 117,000 seniors walked across their high school stage into the real world, meaning last year’s 99,000 was a 15% dropoff. Fewer grads means fewer to go to college.

Despite tons of data that suggests having a higher degree is a one-way ticket to a fatter paycheck, if there is nobody in the queue, it will be tougher to get to the 60% goal.

Obviously, not everyone wants to take four years out of their life for the ability to attend football games, visit local watering holes, and study for that degree.

Nothing wrong with that.

But the scary part is that more students not choosing the stipend is bad news for the governor and higher-ed administrators, not to mention the students who do go who end up with even higher costs.

Ten years ago, 66% of high schoolers went to a campus. It’s now 53%, even though 75% of the 12th-graders were eligible for the state aid.

While the Legislature did pony up the money for the scholarships, lawmakers’ track record over the years of chopping away at the higher ed. budget has been less than exemplary, as lawmakers shifted more money onto the backs of parents to foot the bill.

In fact, University of Michigan grad Rick Snyder cut his own alma mater and the state’s other universities by 15% when he became governor to raise money for a business tax cut.

To make matters worse, the public attitude about anyone who has a degree has shifted from widespread respect many years ago to a feeling among some today that higher ed folks think they are better than the rest of us, not to mention the rash of protests on many campuses that are not exactly a positive calling card for college recruiters.


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