Detroit Families Eye Help With Tuition

In Detroit, many families with students headed for college face the prospect of losing scholarship money provided by struggling U.S. automakers. Can the federal government help?

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And as Larry mentioned, there will be more money for college students, bigger Pell grants, and there will be more funding for work-study programs. But for those students who relied on scholarships from the auto industry, the increases from the federal government may not replace what they're losing. From Detroit, NPR's Celeste Headlee reports.

CELESTE HEADLEE: The big three paid more than $35 million a year in tuition assistance to the children of autoworkers. That program was recently discontinued, and Val Meyers(ph) at Michigan State University says the school may not have enough financial aid money to replace the $800,000 students were getting from the automakers.

Ms. VAL MEYERS (Michigan State University): I'm not sure that we'll have enough to completely fill that gap.

HEADLEE: The stimulus package provides more money for Pell grants, but those are targeted to kids from very low-income families. Meyers says, some parents who are still working may not qualify.

Ms. MEYERS: If their hours have been cut, for example, but they're still making a somewhat significant middle-class income, they may in fact not be helped by increases in the stimulus package.

HEADLEE: But many of the students losing tuition assistance from the auto industry will now be eligible for need-based aid. Pamela Fowler is the executive director of Financial Aid at the University of Michigan.

Ms. PAMELA FOWLER (Executive Director, Office of Financial Aid at the University of Michigan): Students are always scrambling to make their tuition. ..TEXT: HEADLEE: But she says she expects to see a big increase in kids that need help covering tuition costs. So far, there's been a 10 percent jump at U of M.

Ms. FOWLER: We know on the federal end that that the FAFSAs are up 20 percent over a year ago.

HEADLEE: That's the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Fowler says many schools have set aside funds to help students who've been affected by the economic downturn. And she says Michigan will assist all of its students to finish their degrees.

Ms. FOWLER: But in other institutions where they are unable to meet full need, that may be a problem because students may not be able to borrow enough to cover all of their expenses.

HEADLEE: Val Meyers at MSU says she expects to see a big increase in the number of students borrowing money and dropping out of college.

Ms. MEYERS: There will be probably both.

HEADLEE: About 350 more students at MSU will qualify for Pell grants next year and an extra 500 will get work-study from the stimulus package. But if that still doesn't pay the cost of tuition, Meyers says some students will be left making a difficult decision.

Ms. MEYERS: The other question might be, well, can I afford to be here? You know, we hope that won't be the case, but for some students it may be.

HEADLEE: The process is even further complicated by the fact that no one is really sure how much tuition is going to be. It's pretty sure the cost will go up, but by how much? That decision is on hold until the state of Michigan sorts through its stimulus money and issues a final budget for next year. Celeste Headlee, NPR News Detroit.

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