Report: Older students in Mich. miss out on grants

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

Among Michigan’s biggest oversights in reviving the economy is its failure to offer financial aid for older adults who want to attend college, according to a report released earlier this week by the Michigan League for Public Policy.

The report — State Financial Aid Leaves Adult Learners Behind — shows that no state grants are offered to students who graduated from high school more than ten years ago and want to attend a public university or community college.

That’s a sharp contrast to four state finanical aid programs available for older adults before the recession, and have since been cut.

And it comes as more people are trying to reinvent themselves through education to find employment after being laid off, stuck in a low-paying job or reentering the labor market after several years of raising children.

“We know that postsecondary education is so important in today’s economy. Helping older workers sharpen their skills or pursue studies leading to in-demand jobs will help Michigan’s economy,’’ said Gilda Z. Jacobs, president and CEO of the Michigan League for Public Policy.

Two of Michigan’s three grants for college-bound students are earmarked for students who graduated a decade or less ago, according to the report. The third grant can only be used at private institutions, which typically have higher price tags.

To address this situation, Jacobs said the state can restore one of the cut programs aimed at older students. Change the timetable for one of the scholarships available for attending public universities so that it can be used for part-time students or for short-term occupational programs.

Or, the state could implement a work student program connecting low-income adult students to paid jobs relevant to their course of study.

“Leaving older workers out of financial aid programs is a flaw in Michigan’s workforce development strategy that needs to be fixed,’’ Jacobs said. “The health of our economy depends on workers getting the skills they need to become productive employees and support their families.’’

This is especially important for Wayne State University because it has a large number of nontraditional students, said Kim Trent, who’s on the WSU Board of Governors.

One of the major problems with students’ obtaining their degrees is college affordability, and these grants are really critical to open doors for nontraditional students.

“We have to get serious about college attainment,” Trent said. “Our economy is never going to be on track again unless we look at college attainment. The main entry point is a college degree ... and you have to be able to afford it.”