In News Releases

For Immediate Release
September 6, 2016

Contact: Alex Rossman

Data shows 62 percent of Michigan college students graduate with debt, averaging $29,450; nationally, college debt worse for students and families of color

LANSING—Public university tuition in Michigan increased by 100-150 percent since 2003 and is the sixth highest tuition in the country according to a new Back to School Report released today by the Michigan League for Public Policy.

The report, Rising Tuition and Weak State Funding and Financial Aid Create More Student Debt, cites skyrocketing college costs, decreased state higher education funding, and reduced state financial aid in causing mounds of debt that will loom over students for decades to come. Between 2003 and 2016-2017, Michigan cut university funding by more than $262 million, a 30 percent decrease in public support after adjusting for inflation. State funding for need-based financial aid per full-time equivalent student has declined by 55 percent since 1992 when adjusted for inflation.

“As the college semester gets underway, too many students and families have had to take on a mountain of debt to get there or are being priced out of a higher education altogether,” said Gilda Z. Jacobs, president and CEO of the Michigan League for Public Policy. “Over the last 13 years, public university tuition has drastically gone up while state funding for universities plummeted by almost a third, leaving students and families to foot the bill. Once again, Michigan is a national leader in a negative category—and one that runs counter to the political rhetoric of attracting and keeping talent.”

Michigan has the ninth highest average student debt level in the nation, with 62 percent of Michigan’s Class of 2014 graduating with debt averaging $29,450—$10,000 more than students in some other states. There is not racial data on student debt available at the state level, but the report shows that nationally African-American students and their families owe significantly more in student debt ($43,725) than individuals of other races, and that Latino parents and grandparents incur the most student debt on behalf of their children and grandchildren.

In the early 1990s, Michigan was among the top ten states in need-based financial aid spending, but is now in the bottom half in the country. The national average of state spending on need-based grants is $533 per full-time equivalent undergraduate student, yet Michigan spends only 42 percent of that amount ($223) and only one-quarter of what neighboring Indiana spends ($870). Michigan has also completely eliminated state financial aid for students over age 30 attending a public community college or university—a move in the wrong direction as an increasing number of college students are older, have families and work full-time jobs.

“Making college more affordable is an education issue, a workforce development issue and an economic issue,” Jacobs said. “Businesses want an educated workforce, and students and older workers need a postsecondary credential to improve their job prospects and individual earnings, both of which benefit our communities and economy. There are policies that can cut down on the cost of college—legislators just need to act on them.”

The Back to School Report concludes with policy recommendations to Michigan lawmakers on postsecondary education funding, including:

  • Restore and increase the state budget funding that has been cut from public universities and community colleges and implement stronger tuition restraint or tuition reduction requirements on the schools;
  • Make need-based financial aid grants available to older workers;
  • Ensure that there is financial aid help for students going to college less than half-time or who are in short-term programs; and
  • Support policies that can help alleviate hardship for low-income students, including policies that permit low-income students to receive public assistance such as cash assistance, food assistance or subsidized child care.

For more information on the League’s budget recommendations on higher education funding, especially for programs for older students, visit our Budget Briefs page. The League’s previous Labor Day Reports on workforce issues are available at


The Michigan League for Public Policy,, is a nonprofit policy institute focused on economic opportunity for all. It is the only state-level organization that addresses poverty in a comprehensive way.