By Sebastian Fryer
Following a stop at Grand Valley State University, Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm spoke at Western Michigan University’s Bernhard Center Thursday night about the elimination of the Michigan Promise and how students could play a part in bringing the financial aid scholarship back.
Granholm advised the over 300 students in attendance to practice their democratic rights and vote for state legislators that reflect their best interests.
“The legislators work for you,” Granholm said. “If you vote, you hired them. You’re their employer.”
Reassuring that she was on the student’s side, Granholm said she tried to keep the Michigan Promise in the state budget, but was ultimately unable to do it alone.
“I can’t do it,” Granholm said. “I’ve tried, but me alone, I can’t do it.”
Granholm said that when she received the final budget, she had to make a decision between signing off on an “inadequate budget” or shutting down the state government. Citing a 2007 governmental shutdown which she said gave Michigan “a black eye across the country,” Granholm decided to sign the budget under protest.
“Just because [the budget] is signed, doesn’t mean the story is over,” Granholm said.
Before Granholm’s speech, WMU President John Dunn, Ph.D., read a shortened list of WMU’s Points of Pride. These points included WMU’s diversity of academic programs, the Lee Honors College, WMU’s Phi Beta Kappa chapter, WMU’s research university status, and the value of its students.
“We’re just enormously proud of our students and all that they do,” he said.
Nearly 5,000 eligible students will not be receiving the Promise, a total of four to six million dollars in scholarship money being lost, said Western Student Association President Nate Knappen said.
“In Michigan, an education should be a right, not a privilege,” he said.
WMU sophomore and WSA senator Lauren Hearit spoke of her experience with the loss of the Michigan Promise.
“As a sophomore, looking at taking out my second loan to help fund my undergraduate education, I realized that the amount of money that I need to borrow has just dramatically increased,” Hearit said.
Hearit said that although she would like to continue her post-graduate education in Michigan, the loss of the Michigan Promise may cause her to attend an out-of-state university for a higher degree.
“I strongly urge students not only here at Western Michigan University, but at institutions across the state of Michigan, to step up and contact their state senator, and to ask that they show their support to restore funding for this scholarship that is invaluable to the students here in the state of Michigan,” she said.
WMU junior and WSA senator Aaron Booth also shared his thoughts on the elimination of the Michigan Promise.
“Where did Michigan go wrong?” Booth asked. “Why can’t the Senate uphold their promise?”
As a 2007 high school graduate, Booth was of the first university students to receive the Michigan Promise. When Booth learned of the elimination of the Promise, he picked up a third part-time job to help cover what he had lost as a result.
“Reinstating the Michigan Promise will help save Michigan,” he said.
Booth also advocated that students contact their state legislators via all means of communication.
“I’m on your side – I just want you to know – and I’m here to ask for your help,” Granholm said.
Granholm stated that reinstating the Michigan Promise is still a possibility.
“This is fixable,” she said.
The purpose of the Michigan Promise was to help the state reach a goal of doubling the amount of college graduates and make Michigan, as Granholm said, an “education state.”
The governor stated that Michigan’s economy is changing, and that the government hopes to “diversify the economy.”
“We have targeted six sectors,” Granholm said. “These are all 21st century kinds of jobs, and they need 21st century minds to be able to fill those jobs.”
The six sectors are life sciences, advanced manufacturing, homeland security and defense, alternative and renewable energy, tourism, and film production.
“We want to keep you here and have a diverse economy that reflects the Michigan that we want to become,” Granholm said.
After her speech, Granholm spoke more of students’ ability to sway the House and Senate.
“The general consensus [across the state] is that students feel empowered to be able to make their voices heard,” Granholm said. “They have the information; they know how they can direct their attention, especially to the Senate, and they know it’s doable.”
Granholm faulted the state’s senators with the difficulty in keeping the Michigan Promise within the state budget.
“Senators in particular have been resistant to link up the funding source with the Promise,” Granholm said.
“[The senators] need to understand that if we are going to transform Michigan’s economy, it is through education that we must do that.”
Granholm encouraged students to visit and join the Facebook page “Keep Our Promises.”