Graduation surprise: Entire 8th-grade class promised free college tuition in Michigan

MUSKEGON TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Leaders from a Michigan state university made a surprise announcement Thursday night at an eighth-grade graduation ceremony.     

All the graduates of the Timberland Charter Academy will receive free tuition to Grand Valley State University as long as they graduate high school with at least a 2.8 GPA.

The announcement was made to approximately 40 students at the end of the graduation ceremony. 

The academy is the first school selected for the program in West Michigan.

The Timberland Charter Academy on June 2, 2022. (WOOD)

Students knew a major announcement would be made, but they didn’t know what it might be.

“I kind of had a feeling it was something about college,” said student Aniyah Thomas.

Her mother, Gloria Hammond, said the news came as a relief for parents.

“It’s exciting for our children to have an opportunity to go to college if they want to go and not have to pay for it and that barrier has been broken for them,” Hammond said.

Valedictorian Jemarion Brown, who won many awards at the ceremony, was not expecting such a big announcement. His mother, Candace Cook, said the opportunity will help so many young lives. 

“This is a great school for him, and I’m extremely happy that they choose Timberland to do this. It’s a blessing,” Brown said.

Stephen Evans, the school director, said the announcement includes additional funding to help with other college expenses.

“The program offers free tuition, tutoring, also a variety of support programs. You name it. Everything that a student will need to be successful at the college level and the system that we’re going to put in at the high school level, at Timberland, to support them through high school,” Evans said.

GVSU leaders say it may take a little time for the impact of the announcement to set in for the students.

Barry Hall, the assistant director of charter through college at GVSU, was the keynote speaker and announced the surprise.

“Once they have sophomores and juniors and they have colleges talking to them, say how much it costs to go here, that whole process of getting in, they’re going to say, ‘Wow, I’ve already been accepted into a school already, and I know what this process is all about,’” Hall said.

The money for the tuition comes through the Grand Valley Pledge program.

Parents are also eligible to apply for scholarships to help them with their degrees.