Go Blue Guarantee free tuition goes into effect in new year

Sunday, January 7, 2018 - 6:28pm

Starting this winter semester, the Go Blue Guarantee will begin to cover full tuition for in-state University students whose families make $65,000 a year or less. The commitment will automatically cover current qualifying students, as well as future students who apply and are admitted.

The Go Blue Guarantee, announced last summer, aims to encourage students from socioeconomically underrepresented communities to apply to the University, with the comfort that if admitted, they will be able to afford it. The University’s hope is to give high school students who otherwise wouldn’t have applied the confidence to do so.

At his appearance at the Senate Assembly on Dec. 11, Schlissel heralded the program as his greatest achievement as university president.

“I think we should all be extremely proud of that commitment we are making to opportunity across the breadth of our state,” Schlissel said.

He also mentioned how the early action applicant numbers for next year’s freshman class have risen from previous years, which he partly attributed to the Go Blue Guarantee.

“This year’s numbers, and I think it’s because of the Go Blue Guarantee in part, are even stronger (than previous years),” Schlissel said. “The December 1st year over year numbers are significantly up in applicant numbers.”

While Schlissel suggested a rise in applications, no information has been officially released about how many students who qualify for the Go Blue Guarantee have been admitted to the 2018 freshman class.

The University is pursuing various advertising efforts to ensure Michigan high school students are informed about the guarantee. The University has promoted the Go Blue Guarantee online through social media platforms and emails to prospective students in lower income communities. In addition, the Office of Undergraduate Admissions has incorporated the information about the guarantee into tours for Michigan high school students.

In an interview with the Daily in October, Kedra Ishop, the University's Vice Provost for Enrollment Management, said reshaping public perception was one of the purposes of the guarantee.

"One of the premises of the Go Blue Guarantee was to recast our message, in the sense that we have aid available for students at the University of Michigan and we wanted to make sure that the public understands we have that aid available for students at the University of Michigan," she said.

Andrew Xhelilaj, a sophomore at Michigan State University, found out about the Go Blue Guarantee when one of these advertising emails was sent to his sister. Since then, Xhelilaj has applied to transfer to the University in part because of the free tuition the Go Blue Guarantee would grant to him.  Xhelilaj said he is a second-generation immigrant and first-generation college student, and wants to alleviate his family of some of the financial burdens of college.

Xhelilaj’s sister received ample financial aid when she attended the University because his family was less financially stable than they are currently. Xhelilaj would not have gotten the same level of financial aid as his sister did had he attended the University freshman year.

“My sister went to Michigan and she usually checks up on the school, and one day she had an email or had something sent to her (about the Go Blue Guarantee),” Xhelilaj said. “She showed me and I was like, ‘Oh, this is good,’ because my family makes just under 65 (thousand dollars a year) and it seemed viable to actually attend Michigan again.”

Xhelilaj sees the Go Blue Guarantee as a step in the right direction for the University, and has been spreading the word to his friends and fellow classmates.

“I’ve told many people actually that Michigan’s financial aid package is very nice for underprivileged people,” Xhelilaj said. “That’s one of the reasons everyone wants to go there.”

LSA freshman Trenton Cox is a student who should qualify for free tuition under the Go Blue Guarantee. Cox is from Jackson, Michigan, and is paying for college with scholarships and loans. He agrees the Go Blue Guarantee is an encouraging sign from the University, but is concerned about whether or not he would actually receive the free tuition. Cox said he hasn’t obtained any personal notification his tuition will be covered, and is confused about the details.

“I’m happy about the Go Blue Guarantee being a thing, but I’m really worried that the University’s going to give me a hard time about it,” Cox said. “For having such a large endowment, Michigan is known to be like that sometimes.”

Cox said his family income for 2016 was above $65,000, but this year it fell below that threshold. Even with a family income just about $65,000, Cox said he did not receive any need-based aid for last semester.

“I would argue that me and a lot of other people really could’ve used financial aid from the University,” Cox said. “I feel like there’s a good chance they can probably spare the money.”

In general, however, Cox sees the Go Blue Guarantee as a positive change for the University.

“I like that they’re recognizing the fact that they are realizing there’s a financial elitism problem here, and attacking in it in what I hope will be an effective way,” Cox said.

The “financial elitism problem” refers to the University’s struggles with socioeconomic diversity in its student body. According to a study conducted by The Equality of Opportunity Project, nearly 10 percent of the student body belongs to the top 1 percent of income earners in the U.S., and 66 percent of the student body belongs to the top 20 percent of income earners.

Currently, the median family income at the University is $154,000, more than double the state of Michigan’s median family income. There are about 3,000 current students who qualify for the Go Blue Guarantee, which is about 10 percent of the undergraduate population.

Cox recalls realizing the lack of socioeconomic diversity on campus his first semester.

“I didn’t think it was that big of a deal until I realized that that lack of socioeconomic diversity really discouraged people from my income bracket from applying to the University,” Cox said. “A lot of kids with a lot of potential just cannot go to Michigan because they don’t have enough money.”

Xhelilaj also remembers how expensive the University can seem to in-state high school students. He recalled the hardship of students at his high school in Royal Oak, Michigan who were admitted to the University but could not afford to attend.

“For many other people whose parents just can’t pick up the parent-plus loans, it’s just unaffordable and they have to go to community college,” Xhelilaj said.

The stark lack of socioeconomic diversity at the University has recently received national attention, detailed in pieces by Politico and The New York Times. Go Blue Guarantee intends to partially redress this issue and increase socioeconomic diversity to better reflect that of the state.

While the Go Blue Guarantee will hopefully increase socioeconomic diversity, there are still costs other than tuition that deter students from coming to the University, including meals, residence halls, off-campus housing, textbooks and classroom materials. Many say these expenses add up and pose a major burden for those of lower socioeconomic status. 

“That’s my other problem with the elitism problem, is that I have realized that one of the reasons why stuff here is so expensive is because they’re assuming kids can just afford it,” Cox said. “It’s ridiculous to me.”

LSA sophomore Katherine Miner is an out-of-state student who relies on financial aid to pay for her tuition. She is also a student athlete, but turned down her athletic scholarship this year because her family’s income allowed her to get more financial aid through the University than her scholarship would have provided. Despite aid, the costs of living in Ann Arbor still place a financial burden on her and her family.

“I didn’t fully understand the cost of attending Michigan in the sense that I have received financial aid but I didn’t understand that it’s not just the cost of college, it’s the cost of living, it’s the cost of food,” Miner said. “It’s never just like, ‘oh, it costs this much,’ there’s $10,000-plus always added on to it.”

Miner does not qualify for the Go Blue Guarantee because it only applies to in-state students. While she is happy about the commitment, she feels like the cost of tuition for out-of-state students only allows students of a higher socioeconomic background to come to the University from out of state.

“As an out-of-state student, the ticket price with no financial aid is ridiculous,” Miner said. “$60,000 a year is just not attainable and I think it only allows a certain socioeconomic income to go to Michigan if you’re out of state.”

She believes the University could benefit from expanding its financial aid more to out-of-state students.

“That would, I feel like, further increase the viewpoints and the backgrounds if you could help people from out of state be able to attend here as well,” Miner said. “It would make it more attainable because it’s great to help everyone from Michigan, and it should because Michigan is a state school and you should prioritize people in your state first. But, if (the Go Blue Guarantee) starts to work, I think they should expand it to out of state.”

Overall, she envisions the Go Blue Guarantee helping to increase socioeconomic diversity, and making the University a better, more enriching place.

“I do appreciate that it helps people of a lower economic state be able to attend Michigan and I think that all it does is better our experience as a whole because it’s not just like this elite mindset,” Miner said. “You can actually get people who have lived in different situations than yourself.”

 

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