Grant promotion causes confusion

GVL Archive 
President Haas gets a hug from an excited graduate last commencement

GVL Archives

GVL Archive President Haas gets a hug from an excited graduate last commencement

Samantha Butcher

Unclear language that left number of seniors unknowingly ineligible for the Grand Finish grant during its promotion created confusion on campus, but Grand Valley State University officials said the grant is now available to all students who earn 90 credits within their first three years in school.

Fine print on the scholarship qualifications states that the first class of recipients must earn their 90th credit in the winter semester of their junior year. Students who had already surpassed 90 credits, including students who had taken a significant number of spring/summer classes at GVSU or tested out of courses through AP or IB exams, were not eligible since they had earned their 90th credits prior to the winter semester.

That stipulation is not a part of the qualifications for students who reached or will reach 90 credits after Winter 2011.

According to information posted last year on the Grand Finish website, “Currently enrolled students who earn 90 credit hours by August 2011 and are within three years of their first enrollment at Grand Valley are eligible.” A press released published through GVSU News and Information contained similar language.

For students who did not receive the Grand Finish, the exclusion came as a shock, as the limitations in place for the first year of the grant were not widely disclosed.

Andrea Blanchard, a senior English and social studies for secondary education major, learned of the Grand Finish during a discussion with a roommate who had received it. Blanchard, who carries a 3.99 GPA and is a member of the Honors College, assumed her exemption was the result of an oversight at first.

“I initially assumed a mistake had been made and called the Financial Aid Office to figure it out only to find out that I had attained my 90th credit too soon to be considered for the award,” she said. “In other words, I was too well prepared to be recognized by the Grand Finish.”

Lynn “Chick” Blue, vice provost and dean of Academic Services and Information Technology, said it was necessary to leave some students behind in order to begin giving out Grand Finish awards to earlier classes.

“There’s always a risk in starting a scholarship program mid-stride, for the very reasons that we’re talking today,” Blue said. “Somebody gets it and somebody doesn’t, so we typically start with an incoming class, and that was going to be Fall ’10. Then there was quite a bit of pressure put on the idea guy, and that was the president, and he decided through a lot of wrangling that they could scare up enough money to start in Fall ’11 and include students who would have matriculated in Fall ’08.”

Last year, GVSU President Thomas J. Haas announced the Grand Finish, which would award students $1,000 if they completed 90 credits by the end of their junior year, as a way to reward students on track to graduate in four years and motivate those who are not. Officials initially planned for the scholarship, which was funded through state appropriations, to begin with the 2010 freshman class but, after pressure from all sides, expanded it to begin disbursing funds this semester in a move that tripled the number of beneficiaries.

More than 1,400 students who reached 90 credits last winter received the scholarship this fall; another student was awarded the Grand Finish after the summer semester and 59 additional students will receive it after the current semester. The number of juniors who surpassed 90 credits before Winter 2011 was not available.

Joe Godwin, associate vice president of Academic Affairs in the Provost’s office, said part of the reason for limiting eligibility to the sixth semester for the award’s startup year was the scholarship’s motivational goals. The Grand Finish was intended as incentive to improve four-year graduation rates, which stood at 26 percent at GVSU in 2010. Increasing the number of students who graduate within four years helps the university keep enrollment steady and defray the costs of expansion.

“One of the reasons we wanted to do it was not to give away money, it was to motivate students to get done, to stay on path to graduation, to follow through,” Godwin said. “We did this to motivate students to move through in the future, not necessarily reward them in the past, and other than the amount of money available, that was a consideration too — should we reward students who already graduated, or go back to ’07 and reward people who were still here? Every time we thought of another way to do it, there was always somebody on the other side of the line.”

Blue said while the scholarship committee was aware of students like Blanchard who enter the university with credits or take summer classes, they felt the funds would be best utilized for students who need an additional incentive.

“It isn’t that we didn’t know we were going to leave some behind, we knew we were,” she said. “But it was either that or not do it at all, so when it gets down to that, we have to decide, are we going to do it or not? … It doesn’t feel good to the guy who doesn’t get it, that’s a surefire thing, but to the people who are, it’s probably a pretty good thing.”

Godwin said while the exclusion of some students was “unfortunate,” it was also necessary for the grant to start making an immediate impact at the university.

“The idea behind the award was to motivate students to move through to a timely graduation; those people who reached 90 credits before then were certainly doing that, and by the time we announced the award, there was, in effect, no additional motivation to be had for those students,” he said.

However, for students who were unexpectedly cut out, the exclusion still stings.

“I know I am not the only one to be shorted this award for being an overachiever and the message that is being sent to us is that you will be penalized for going above and beyond at Grand Valley,” Blanchard said. “I have never felt so let down by the university.”

Blanchard is on track to graduate in May, four years after beginning a five-year program.

Blue said that in the end, the decision came down to dollars and cents.

“The problem with a start point is that it leaves some people on this side and some people on that side, and unfortunately, that’s how it works,” Blue said. “If we had the money, we’d love to help more students. We’ve said that time and again. If we had more money, we could help more.”

For more information on the Grand Finish, visit

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