In Blog: Factually Speaking

This time of year is when a rite of passage for many parents takes place: dropping off a child at a college or university dormitory for the first time and saying goodbye. My wife and I took part in that ritual a few weeks ago with our daughter, Sophia.

For most students, it is an exciting milestone. But many likely also feel a twinge of anxiety: will my degree enable me to pay off my student loans on time?

The League recently took a look at university tuition, student debt and financial aid in Michigan in our Back to School Report. We found that tuition more than doubled at nearly all Michigan universities since 2003, and that Michigan’s average university tuition is sixth highest in the nation. (Michigan Community college tuition, however, is in the bottom half of states.

We know this is due in part to the fact that state funding for public universities has declined by 30% since 2003 after adjusting for inflation—a slow privatization of our public university system. Tuition now makes up the majority of funding (69%) for university operating expenses, whereas up through 2003 state support provided most of the universities’ funding.

Compounding that problem is that financial aid in Michigan seems stuck in the 20th Century. Michigan ranks 30th among states in awarded need-based aid dollars per full-time equivalent undergraduate student, failing to keep up with rising tuition. Michigan also no longer gives financial aid to students over age 30 to attend community college or public university, despite the fact that older students make up an increasing share of the overall student body.

Not surprisingly, rising tuition and weak financial aid have resulted in 62% of 2014 Michigan college graduates having debt, with their debt averaging $29,450, the ninth highest in the country. Student debt tends to be even higher for students of color.

The League would like to see Michigan policymakers be proactive in reversing these trends. Let’s start by:

  • Restoring the state funding that has been cut from public universities, coupling significantly increased funding with stronger tuition restraint or tuition reduction requirements.
  • Making need-based financial aid grants available to older students again by bringing back the Part- Time Independent Student Grant that was cut in 2009.
  • Implementing a state Work-Study program that subsidizes academically relevant work for low-income adult students while paying a livable wage.

Supporting policies that can help alleviate hardship for low-income students by permitting them to receive cash or food assistance or subsidized child care.

For further information and more policy recommendations, please see our newly released paper Back to School Report: Rising Tuition and Weak State Funding and Financial Aid Create More Student Debt.

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