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Ann Arbor — A year after unveiling the Go Blue Guarantee — four years of free tuition for students from in-state families making up to $65,000 a year — the University of Michigan is preparing to welcome its first new class of recipients this fall.

Announced with much fanfare last June by the board of regents, the Go Blue Guarantee was extended in January to 1,687 students who were already enrolled and eligible, said Kedra Ishop, UM's vice provost for enrollment management. Those students received nearly $11 million in institutional grant support for the semester, she said.

For the winter semester, just over 10 percent of UM’s 16,364 in-state undergraduates received aid under the program, and officials hope the proportion of Go Blue Guarantee recipients will grow with future classes. Nearly 800 other students were found to be eligible but were already receiving grant awards that exceeded tuition, Ishop said.

“Talent and achievement is not distributed by income,” she said. “We have really bright students across the income band all over this country and we need to make sure that they have opportunities at places like the University of Michigan.”

With undergraduate tuition at $15,262 for the 2018-19 year, the guarantee offers just over a $60,000 value to eligible students and their family over the course of four years. Beside meeting the income limit, students' family assets must total less than $50,000.

Participants say the program is making it easier for them to afford attending UM.

“Going here was something I always wanted to do,” said Payton Moore of Monroe, a program participant who will be a junior this fall. “And coming here the first year, I had to pay basically all of the tuition. So now, it’s just really helpful since it’s just (my mom and I) paying only for housing, groceries, stuff like that.”

Moore, 20, who’s majoring in psychology, says not having to pay tuition also will help her toward her goal of becoming a lawyer.

“My money that I’ve been saving up will go to law school instead of going to this tuition,” she said.

The Go Blue Guarantee is one of three full-tuition initiatives UM is pursuing to increase the school’s diversity. 

Also arriving in the fall are the first students enrolled in UM’s Wolverine Pathways, a program launched by UM in 2015. It offers current sixth- and ninth-grade students the opportunity to join the program as they begin the seventh and 10th grade in Ypsilanti and Southfield. 

Of the 89 Wolverine Pathways high school seniors in 2018, 41 students are expected to enroll at UM-Ann Arbor and 27 at UM-Dearborn, Ishop said.

Students in that program participate in three seasonal sessions throughout the year at their school district through completion of the 12th grade. They have Saturday sessions from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. for eight weeks in the fall and winter and a four-week summer session taking place Monday through Thursday.

The program has since expanded to Detroit, which will enroll its first group of Pathways students at UM in fall 2019.

This fall, UM will enroll its third group of freshmen under the HAIL (High Achieving Involved Leaders) scholarship program, which offers four years of free tuition for students from low-income families, defined as those who quality for the federal Pell Grant.

At UM, 56 percent of in-state students came from families earning $150,000 or more annually as of fall 2016.

Only 30 percent of in-state students came from families earning less than $100,000 and only 16 percent earning less than $50,000 annually that year, according to the university's Michigan Almanac.

UM President Mark Schlissel has made it a goal for 20 percent of the student population to come from low-income families. About 15 percent of students at the university are currently Pell-eligible, according to Ishop.

The university began expanding its reach to low-income, high-achieving students as a national dialogue about diversity in higher education has been evolving from race and ethnicity to include income. Since Schlissel’s arrival in 2014, he has made it a priority to make the public university accessible to everyone if they can qualify academically.

Studies show that tens of thousands of students fail to apply to top universities, such as UM, even though graduating from a top school could increase a student's economic mobility by boosting income 25 percent, or about $450,000, over a lifetime, according to Bloomberg Philanthropies.

UM isn’t alone is seeking to attract more moderate and low-income students through targeted tuition programs. This year, the University of Wisconsin-Madison announced Bucky’s Tuition Promise in February, guaranteeing free tuition for four years to in-state residents with family incomes below $56,000 and the University of Texas at Austin debuted the Texas Advance Commitment in April, offering free tuition to in-state students with family incomes below $30,000.

Programs like the Go Blue Guarantee initiative, along with Wolverine Pathways and the HAIL Scholarship, are part of the university's efforts to break down barriers, Ishop said.

“Michigan is founded upon a mission of educating students from the far corners of the state of Michigan, the country and the world,” she said. “And that’s not limited to only students of wealth, it’s for students with talent so we have to work harder to identify those students with talent to help them know that they have opportunities here."

UM officials said they do not have a final number of students who will be entering this fall under the Go Blue Guarantee.

LaKaylia Kea, 20, a senior sociology major from Detroit, learned about the Go Blue program while working with students as an intern in the Wolverine Pathways program.

“I was kind of just wondering if it was going to apply to everyone that qualified and they said it would,” Kea said. “So I was just kind of like ‘That’s exciting.’ Because now I have less worries about if my tuition is going to be paid or not.”

She hopes to attend the UM School of Social Work as a graduate student and later work in secondary or higher education as a counselor.

“It’s easier to pay some bills when we don’t have to worry about paying tuition and all that, so it helps me focus on school more because I have less of a worry,” Kea said.

Ishop said UM enrolled 262 HAIL scholarship recipients in the program’s first year and 221 last fall.

One of the HAIL scholars who enrolled at UM last fall is Caleb Adams, 18, who’s from the Upper Peninsula town of Bark River. Adams, a sophomore majoring in psychology, received an informational packet about the program during his senior year.

Adams said before learning about the HAIL scholarship, he believed he would have to stay in the U.P. for college like many of his classmates and go to Northern Michigan University. 

“I kind of thought it was a joke at first, because who gets four years of tuition at the University of Michigan?” he said.

Adams, a first-generation college student, originally planned to become a high school teacher, but now plans to explore post-grad work and see where that takes him.

“The HAIL Scholarship gives students the opportunity to do things they never thought imaginable,” he said. “I mean this past year, I was able to go study abroad and I never had dreamed of studying abroad before in my collegiate career. So by taking this opportunity with the scholarship, it just opens up so many more doors than you imagine when you first open up that packet.”

Staff Writer Kim Kozlowski contributed.

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