Opinion | Cutting Michigan Tuition Grant puts the state at stake

Michael Le Roy

Michael Le Roy is president of Calvin University in Grand Rapids. He also is chairman of the board of the Michigan Independent Colleges and Universities

The future of Michigan depends on the future of Michigan talent. And the demand for this talent can’t be developed without the substantial help of Michigan independent colleges and universities. For decades, the Michigan Tuition Grant has enabled an outstanding partnership between the state and its vibrant network of independent institutions to enable Michigan students to earn an excellent degree at a lower cost than the state can provide on its own.   

One of these grant recipients, Calvin University senior Wesley Brooks II, comes from a middle-class family in Detroit and receives a Michigan Tuition Grant of $2,400. He is completing a degree in business operations and has made significant contributions during his internship at Spectrum Health. When he graduates in May, his considerable skills and talent will be in demand by many Michigan employers.

At Calvin University, like all of our independent colleges and universities, we multiply the effect of the state grant times four thanks to generous donors and friends who make Wesley’s education possible. Every $1 of state funding is matched or exceeded by $4 of charitable donations that help Calvin students. These private funds come to Calvin from donors and friends who believe in our particular mission and approach to educating students. This support has reduced the average debt load of our students by $4,000 over the last five years.

Legislators and our governor should take note that the declining birth rate in our state has reduced the pipeline for talented students. The number of college-bound high school students will be shrinking by about a third at a time when the large baby boom generation retires. These demographic forces promise to create a tremendous gap between the need for a talented workforce and our institutions’ ability to meet this need. Cutting the Michigan Tuition Grant will only increase this gap. Not to mention, it’ll also create the stress of additional student debt. This has negative implications for both our students and our state.

The economic benefits of a college education are substantial to our state. College graduates have lower unemployment rates, earn higher incomes, bring new businesses to the region, and contribute to the growth of the state’s economy. Those arguments are all very important to make. But, I would argue there is far more at stake than just money. 

Studies make it clear that higher educational attainment offers significant general benefits to our society. Gallup is currently conducting a study on the concept of well-being, based on the subcategories of career, social, financial, physical, and community well-being. These are key elements that lead to human flourishing and key areas developed and supported by the curriculum and excellent instruction at Michigan’s Independent Colleges and Universities.

In its extensive research, Gallup has found that the single most important predictor of well-being across each of these areas is the completion of a four-year degree. The Michigan Tuition Grant can continue to be that small, but mighty, investment in the future of our state and students. It’s an investment in the well-being of Michigan — a blending of the individual and common good. I urge state lawmakers and our governor to find a solution that restores this small, but mighty investment in Michigan’s future.

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Scott Roelofs
Thu, 10/10/2019 - 9:26am

Mr. Le Roy, I agree with your commentary. But why did you not include in your comments the reason for the demise of this grant program? The state legislature included this program in the budget. But Governor Whitmer line item vetoed it! That's right, the guv scoured the budget, found this tuition grant program, and wiped it out! Mr. Le Roy: an opinion piece is fine, but if you and your colleagues want to see the program re-instated, you'll need to plead your case with the governor. It may be too late however; she may not be able to rescind her veto.

David Waymire
Thu, 10/10/2019 - 1:54pm

And Scott, you need to expand your concerns...don't forget, Gov. Whitmer proposed a 3 percent increase for public universities. The Legislature cut that to 0.5 percent. Mr. LeRoy is exactly right on the big picture...helping creating more college grads should be our state's top economic development goal. Because states with a lot of college grads are wealthier, and college grads can afford to hire home builders, go to restaurants and visit retailers (support their neighbors without a degree) better than those without a degree.

Thu, 10/10/2019 - 11:13am

Tax payer dollars to private schools?
No, no, and no!
If you want to send your kid to a private school, well good for you. But, not on my dime.

Thu, 10/10/2019 - 11:44am

Wow, we agree, sort of. If your kid going to college makes such great financial sense for them, why should the tax payers pay for it no matter where they choose to go, private or public? Why should people not sending their kid to college pay for you or me to send ours? What's the difference? Let alone if it doesn't!

middle of the mit
Thu, 10/10/2019 - 7:16pm

Did you ever stop to think that sending kids to collage could be beneficial to everyone? What happens to society when only the wealthy can afford an education? We know what happens. It used to England in the days of Kings or should I say Regents? It happened here up until the GI bill. That is when the middle class was lifted up.

Stop obfuscating and understand. Public schools mean public money. NO public school, NO public money! NO voucher. Why do other conservatives want to take money that isn't theirs and use it for their kids to go to private school?

Do you agree?

Heck, I would allow a voucher for the property tax they pay on their property. Do you think the Republican folks up here would be able to afford $9,000 per year per kid?

Under them terms Public looks pretty good doesn't it?

As a matter of fact, that is why Public schools were created in the first place.

What do you want to do? Go back to what we had before 1900's?

Fri, 10/11/2019 - 9:50am

Matt wants to see feudalism revived, with all of us peasants held captive by the whins of the new corporate aristocracy

Ron DeLap
Wed, 10/30/2019 - 7:12pm

Consider that around 70% of private school grads stay in Michigan while 50% of big publics leave the state, esp STEM grads (like MTU where I went). I remember the MTU job fairs, heavily populated by out of state companies. I moved to Vermont with my BS in Engineering. Detroit has the highest lack of EEs in the country right now and it cripples our ability to attract new industry. $2400 is a small pittance compared to the amount of our tax dollars given to public 4 year students who are more likely to leave. It is a good investment in the long term health of our state. Too bad these students are the expendable pawns in a political chess match.