The University Insider is The Daily’s first faculty and staff-oriented newsletter. This weekly newsletter will give U-M faculty and staff the ability to see the most important issues on campus and in Ann Arbor — particularly those related to administrative decisions — from the perspective of an independent news organization. It will also provide a better understanding of student perspectives.
On June 29, the Board of Regents approved a budget for fiscal year 2020-2021 that includes a 1.9 percent increase in tuition for the Ann Arbor campus and a 5.6 percent increase in financial aid for Ann Arbor students, even as many universities across Michigan and the United States opted to freeze tuition increase due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Regents Paul Brown (D) and Jordan Acker (D), who voted against the first budget presented last Thursday, both voted in favor of the new proposal. Acker stated that his decision came down to promises in the new budget not present in the first proposal.
“(The budget) has new pledges to eliminate some uncertainty,” Acker said. “There’s funding for students whose situations have changed from COVID. There’s no tuition increase for families in Michigan whose income is under $120,000, and it does have a 1.9 percent increase on (the University’s) wealthiest students. The one thing that I will point out is I do share Regent Ryder-Diggs’ concerns about statistics when it comes to student aid.”
However, Acker did not mention how out-of-state students will be impacted by the tuition increase.
The budget narrative the University published and that was provided to the Board of Regents in advance of Monday’s meeting mentions extensive aid opportunities for in-state students. However, it only mentions aid for their out-of-state peers twice.
“The budget also includes aid for nonresident families with need,” the narrative reads. “… nonresident tuition rates compare favorably to private peers.”
University spokeswoman Kim Broekhuizen told The Daily most out-of-state students will see an increase in costs, though about 45 percent of out-of-state undergrads receive need-based grant aid and/or scholarship aid, which can be need-based or merit-based. This aid totaled roughly $185,000,000.
Broekhuizen said the new in-state commitments do not change the calculation of aid for out-of-state students.
However, there are not separate budgets for in-state and out-of-state students. The budget authorizes $400,000,000 of “reserves” to be used to meet financial need, but the University has not committed to meeting the full financial need of out-of-state students as it does with Michigan residents, so it is unclear how these reserves will be used to help needy out-of-state students.
Engineering freshman Jason Zheng said while he is an in-state resident, he recognizes the plight of other in-state and out-of-state students paying tuition.
“I am a bit concerned about some other students who may see a tuition increase,” Zheng said. “The University should try to increase tuition as little as possible.”
However, Zheng also acknowledged the difficulty of balancing the budget and freezing tuition.
“Salaries would have to be reduced by a lot for it to actually affect the students,” Zheng said.
Assuming the University kept the increase in financial aid, the added revenue of a 1.9 percent tuition increase is roughly $32,000,000 based on fiscal year 2020 tuition data. Though there are purportedly new protections for students whose financial circumstances have changed due to the virus, including the commitments made to in-state no students, it is still unclear what that will look like for out-of-state students.
In light of claims by the Regents that only families who can pay more will do so, LSA junior Grace Vandelac does not trust the current financial aid system to help students whose situations have changed.
“I kinda don’t have a lot of faith (in the financial aid system).” Vandelac said. “I kinda have doubts about people receiving as much financial aid due to the COVID circumstances as they should actually be receiving from the University.”
She also said that as a result, many of her out-of-state friends are considering taking a gap year or transferring to a cheaper college or university, which would reduce the University of Michigan’s revenues.
“Among my friends, there’s been a little bit of discussion about whether or not it’s gonna be worth it to spend so much money [because] a lot of us are from out-of-state… to essentially get an online or virtual education.” Vandelac said. “Especially once we found out about the tuition increase. We were like ‘is it even worth it to come back to campus when it’s not going to be a full college experience?’ It’s going to be virtual and it’s going to be the same as basically any other kind of education now around the U.S.”
LSA junior Manasi Anantpur, an out-of-state student pointed out that 1.9 percent of $50,000 is about a thousand dollars.
“It would be more useful if they realized that even a few thousand dollars right now can be a big thing (to pay),” Anantpur said.
She said she took issue with the characterization that it was only those who could pay more that would be asked to do so and pointed out that many out-of-state students are right on the edge of receiving financial aid but due to the virus, need relief.
Anantpur’s concerns echoed those of Regent Denise Ilitch (D) in the Monday meeting, who referred to the administration’s description of the tuition increase and noted that an increase of 1.9 percent can impact a family.
“If you were walking and $618 (the average increase for in-state students) was lying in the street, would you step over and pass by it because it was de minimis?” Ilitch said.
Contributor Dominic Coletti can be reached at email@example.com.