Michigan gets low grade for higher education costs

By Jack Turman, Daily Staff Reporter
Published January 8, 2015

In a series of report cards published earlier this week by youth advocacy group Young Invincibles, the state of Michigan’s investment in higher education ranked as one of the lowest nationwide.

The report cards ranked Michigan as the third worst state in the country based on five metrics — tuition, state appropriations average, average burden on families, financial aid for students and higher education as a priority in the state government.

Michigan was one of 31 states to receive an “F” in appropriations for higher education funding. It also numbered among 47 states that spend less per student today than they did before the recession in 2008.

In an interview Thursday, Tom Allison, policy and research manager at Young Invincibles, provided several reasons for Michigan's ranking. He cited the fact that the state has cut its state appropriations per student by 27 percent over the past few years, which is 7 percent higher than the national average at 20 percent.

Republican Governor Rick Snyder’s administration cut higher education funding by 15 percent in 2011, his first year in office. After the decrease his administration has incrementally increased higher education funding by 3.1 percent in 2012, 2.2 percent in 2013 and 6.1 percent in 2014.

Snyder’s office did not return requests for comment on the ranking Thursday.

Allison added that the state awards fewer dollars than the national average, which is over $6,000 per student. Michigan allocates about $4,500 per student.

In an interview Thursday, Donald Heller, dean of the College of Education at Michigan State University, noted a few factors as possible reasons for why the state ranked poorly on the report card. He cited the two major recessions of 2002 and 2008 in the state as possible influences.

“The cut in state funding which has caused the universities to raise tuition very rapidly,” Heller said. ” The relatively high rate of tuition in the first place and the relatively low grade of spending by the state on scholarships means that Michigan is a fairly unaffordable state for higher education for most students.”

Due to both the recessions and the recent cuts in state funding, Heller said Michigan universities have resorted to tuition increases to maintain their budgets.

“One of the reasons that tuition has went up so much in the last 12 years is because the state was cutting funding for the institutions,” he said. “The rational response on the part of institutions is to raise tuition.”

To combat the higher tuition prices, Heller said MSU has tried to increase financial aid and scholarships to students, an approach the University has also championed.

However, he noted the difficulty for many state universities with limited resources to take this approach for every student.

Allison said the report card is not meant to discredit the quality of education in each state, but rather to allow each student to see how state governments prioritize higher education in their budgets.

“The idea here is that we want to provide this context and to inform students of the important role the state budget plays, but then also use this as a tool to advocate for better state investment,” he said. “We don’t want this research to just exist in a bubble.”