Dems’ tuition plan a needs tweaking for maximum effect

Andrew Justus

How does free tuition sound?

It sounds pretty neat, neater than a tall glass of Pabst Blue Ribbon even. The free tuition plan, a proposal put out by Democrats in the state Senate last week, would provide grants to students based on how much of their K-12 education took place in Michigan.

The measure would provide about $9,500 per year to a student who spent their whole school career in the state, with that number decreasing as the years spent in Michigan schools decreased. The proposal would be paid for by eliminating $3.5 billion worth of tax credits and loopholes for businesses in the state.

But is it the right thing to do for a state, which wants to combat rising tuition costs and hold onto more of its educated young people? It is not. Such a blanket program would be more costly than necessary and less effective than it could be at raising the educational attainment of many Michiganders.

The problem is that anyone who attends some or part of their schooling in the state would the $9,500 per year, or some fraction of it. Even people like me who do not need it because, embarrassed as I am, my tuition is covered by the Bank of Dad and its generous terms. For myself and others who can easily afford the cost of college, the grants would be wasted.

I applaud the group of Democratic state Senators for their efforts, but would like to see their plan changed in a few ways to become more targeted and focus on those who need it most. The grants should be means tested to provide aid based on the student’s financial situation. They could also be pegged to a student’s school district, with graduates of Detroit Public Schools being eligible for more money than someone from East Grand Rapids.

It would also be better if the proposal focused on making sure all students are ready for college when they show up, which would minimize the expenses associated with having to retake classes and stay more than four years. I would also like to see the funding go towards providing vocational training in high schools, something that has been evaporating in recent years, because even students who do not choose to attend college should possess skills that will make them valuable in the workplace.

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