Shortchanging Michigan Adult Students

Written by Fran Shor
Posted here by Art Myatt
The September 2016 Michigan League for Public Policy report on postsecondary education in the state highlights the abysmal lack of support for adult students by the Michigan Legislature. After terminating several funding opportunities for adult learners in 2010, the state continues to exclude financial aid for those adults who have been out of high school for more than 10 years. Especially hard hit are low-income adult students who may have to contend with family responsibilities while attending college on a part-time basis.

The recommendations of this report are all noteworthy, including
  • “Reauthorizing funding” for several grants “specifically designed to serve adult learners”
  • “Ensure…financial aid” for part-time students
  • “Implement a state Work Study program that subsidizes academically relevant work for low-income adult students while paying a livable wage”
  • Allow “low-income students to receive public assistance such as cash assistance, food assistance or subsidized child care”
On the other hand, while the above recommendations are laudable they fall short of the kind of fundamental changes that our post-industrial economy requires.  Beyond noting the increasing debt shouldered by students and their families in Michigan because of the decrease of state appropriations, there is no call for tuition-free education at all public universities or eliminating the crushing student loan debt. 
At the national level this could be done in a number of ways from debt forgiveness as Jill Stein, Green Party Presidential candidate, has advocated to a tax of Wall Street financial speculation as Bernie Sanders proposed.  At the state level, Michigan could eliminate the tax give away to businesses that Governor Snyder and the Republicans foisted on the citizens of Michigan.
Calling for a livable wage is still a step behind what many cities have already adopted as a $15 minimum wage.  More radical still would be a guaranteed annual income that would eliminate the need for cash or food assistance programs.  As a stopgap measure, large businesses could provide subsidies to their employees to attend public college and universities.  Work Study programs, in particular, should be geared to the Green New Deal that Jill Stein has outlined.
On their own initiative, public universities in Michigan should offer new degree-granting programs that re-train adult workers for the 21st century economy.  That economy could have built into it a reduced workweek, as a number of countries in Europe already have instituted (Sweden being the latest).  Instead of turning its back on adult students, as Wayne State did in 2007 when it eliminated its premier open admissions adult undergrad and graduate degree department, Wayne State could and should be a leader in degree programs for adult students.
To realize any of the above will require an organized movement and elected officials, especially those on the various Boards at the state and university level, dedicated to fundamental change in our educational and economic priorities.      
Fran Shor is an Emeritus Professor of History at Wayne State University and a Green Party candidate for the WSU Board of Governors

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