WMU's foster youth support program to get $750,000 from state

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KALAMAZOO--The new Michigan budget approved by the Legislature JuneĀ 5 includes $750,000 in the Department of Human Services appropriation to support Western Michigan University's renowned program that helps former foster care youth earn college degrees.

The item in the DHS appropriation is part of an overall state budget that also includes a 2.31 percent increase in annual state appropriations to WMU.

The DHS funding is for WMU's Foster Youth and Higher Education initiative, a four-year-old effort known most commonly as the Seita Scholars program. The program provides a support network for students who have aged out of foster care and are pursuing college degrees. The initiative has already seen its first graduates and has garnered state and national attention as a comprehensive model for supporting the college aspirations of former foster-care youth.

DHS has been involved in supporting the program in the past by providing two state employees at WMU to work with Seita Scholars and serve both as caseworkers and two of the program's five campus coaches. DHS also promotes the Seita program model at conferences around the state.

The WMU program offers a full-tuition scholarship to qualified former foster youth and includes a commitment of year-round housing, which is critical for students without a family home to return to during semester breaks and holiday recesses. This fall, the program is scheduled to welcome its fifth incoming class to campus. The influx of 45 new students will bring the total of students in the program to about 160.

"We credit State Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker, Speaker of the House Jase Bolger and Rep. Robert Genetski who all were strong advocates for WMU in the negotiations. We are enormously grateful to them for championing this important work with former foster care youth," said WMU President John M. Dunn when he outlined the state appropriation process at a June 7 meeting of the WMU Board of Trustees.

The Michigan House and Senate conference committee also settled on budget provisions for higher education appropriations as part of the final budget negotiations, agreeing on a formula that increases the operations budgets for the state's 15 public universities by an average of 2.25 percent. The exact appropriation amount varies from university to university.

The formula means WMU will see a 2.31 percent--or $2.15 million--increase, which is the fourth largest increase among Michigan universities and behind the University of Michigan, Michigan State University and Grand Valley State University. The formula used to apportion increases was based on the number of degrees awarded in critical skill areas, research and economic development expenditures and a number of national performance metrics.

There is also a tuition restraint element designed to provide an incentive for universities to keep tuition increases under 4 percent. Dunn noted it is not yet possible to develop an accurate estimate of what that the tuition restraint incentive would mean to WMU.

Taken together, the increased higher education appropriation, the Seita Scholars allocation and an adjustment to offset WMU expenses for employees who are part of Michigan Public Service Employee Retirement Service will result in the University receiving 3.21 percent more in state funding for the 2012-13 year than was received for the current fiscal year.

The entire state budget now awaits the signature of Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder.