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Michigan Achievement Scholarship *

*Terms and Conditions May Apply. See Rules for Details.

In the current edition of “On the Record,” WCC notes that the Michigan Achievement Scholarship is available to students beginning in 2023. According to WCC, the $2,750 scholarship can pay the student’s full cost of attendance.

As usual, the devil is in the details, and WCC is not always transparent about the details.

To claim the full value of the Michigan Achievement Scholarship, the student (and the student’s financial circumstances) must meet certain conditions.

The student must enroll in classes on a full-time basis

For financial aid purposes, this means the student must complete a minimum of twelve credit hours per semester. Currently, less than 25% of WCC students attend classes full-time. The MAS is not available to part-time students.

Associate degree programs typically require the student to earn sixty credits. If students enroll in just twelve credit hours per semester, they will not accumulate enough credits to graduate with an associate degree in four semesters/two years. That is OK; the program provides three years of eligibility for community college courses, but it means there is not much room for changing majors.

Finishing a two-year degree in two years will require the student to take thirty credit hours per year. This is important because the Michigan Achievement Scholarship will provide a maximum potential aid per year of $2,750. WCC’s current tuition rate of $110 per credit hour for residents will cover no more than twenty-five credits. Students may receive other financial aid to cover this gap, but nothing guarantees that.

Students enrolled in only twelve credit hours cannot drop any classes during a semester. If they do, the State of Michigan will cancel the student’s MAS, which means the student will need to assume financial responsibility for the courses they remain enrolled in. It will also mean that the Department of Education will pro-rate any other federal financial aid to match the student’s remaining credit hours. If the student drops below 6 credit hours, s/he will not be eligible for any federal financial aid.

No FAFSA? No Michigan Achievement Scholarship

To access the Michigan Achievement Scholarship, students must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form. Dependent students must also get their parents to complete the form. The FAFSA contains “dependent student” tests to determine the applicant’s dependency status, but most applicants born after July 1, 2000, and who lived with at least one parent prior to turning eighteen are dependent students. (FAFSA Dependency Tests )

Filing the FAFSA is a problem for about one-third of dependent students. According to the educational lender Sallie Mae, in 2020-21, only 68% of parents of college-bound students completed the FAFSA. When a parent refuses to fill out the FAFSA, a dependent student will be ineligible for most forms of federal financial aid – except unsubsidized student loans. (And even then, the Department of Education may not authorize these.) That means these students get no federal grants.

First dollar, last dollar and what lies between

The Michigan Achievement Scholarship contains a combination of “first dollar” and “last dollar” aid. Of the maximum $2,750 award per year, $1,750 is “first dollar.” That means the MAS applies without considering any other financial aid a student may have. The remaining $1,000 is “last dollar” aid. That means a student will only see that money once all other “gift” financial aid is in place, and the student still has an unmet financial need.

If a student takes thirty credits in an academic year at WCC, the total tuition and fees will be $3,300, assuming WCC does not raise tuition or fees for the 2023-24 school year. (I think there is a slim chance of that.) The MAS might cover as much as $2,750, which is $550 short of the mandatory tuition and fees a student will incur in a year.

Depending on the student’s financial circumstances, another grant – like the Pell Grant – could cover the remainder of the bill. Pell Grants can also cover related expenses, like housing, food, etc.) If the student is not Pell-eligible, WCC could provide institutional scholarships or grants, or the student could apply for private scholarships. These will all reduce the “last-dollar” portion of a Michigan Achievement Scholarship.

Truth matters

I am not criticizing the Michigan Achievement Scholarship. It is a good opportunity for students who can afford to attend school full-time. That does not describe seventy-five percent of WCC students. It is also a good opportunity for students who are eligible for other need-based federal aid. If a student can combine the MAS and other grants and scholarships, they could attend WCC at no cost.

The MAS – itself – will not pay the full cost of attendance. Looking at this in the most favorable way possible, WCC is simply wrong when it says, “New state scholarship will cover cost of WCC tuition for Class of ’23.” The Michigan Achievement Scholarship will cover no more than 83% of a student’s tuition and fees.

People have the right to expect public higher education institutions to be truthful, complete, and accurate when providing information to prospective students. WCC is not telling people the entire truth about the MAS program and its limitations.

There are other aspects of the MAS that students need to consider before applying it to their community college tuition. I will write about those tomorrow.

Photo Credit: Rob Leeming, via Flickr