University guarantees free tuition for students with family income of less than $65,000

Thursday, June 15, 2017 - 4:11pm

In-state students on the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor campus with household incomes of up to $65,000 will receive free tuition for four years beginning January 2018, University president Mark Schlissel announced at the Board of Regents’ June meeting.


The commitment, dubbed the Go Blue Guarantee, will go into effect for undergraduate students—including those already enrolled— in the winter 2018 semester. Sixty-five thousand dollars represents the state median income — half of families in the state are expected to qualify. There is no limit on the number of students who can qualify for the guarantee, although students must also report family assets totaling less than $50,000.  

I've heard from too many people who don't pursue a Michigan degree because they feel they can't afford it,” Schlissel said.

Tuition rates for the 2017-18 fiscal year will otherwise increase by 2.9 percent for in-state students, and 4.5 percent for out-of-state students.  

Regent Denise Ilitch (D) has voted no on tuition increases for years in a row, but said she approved the budget this year in part because of the guarantee.

“This will change lives forever,” she said.

Students’ guarantees— comprising a number of awards and gifts including federal Pell Grants, state scholarships and non-University grants—will be automatically awarded to eligible students and applicants. University officials acknowledged the program simply institutionalizes an existing practice. Sudents under the $65,000 threshold—of which there are about 3,000 currently on campus— already typically recieve full aid. 

"Students under that 65,000 threshold typically would get financial aid," University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said. "One of the things we hope this will overcome is that perception that (the University) is too expensive, even though there's this really powerful financial aid available. This takes away that barrier from the initial application." 
 

Ilitch agreed Thursday's rollout was all about "perception." 

"The fact that we can say free tuition is very powerful," she said. "We haven't been able to talk about how strong our financial aid program is. So many students that are talented and can't afford to come here don't even want to try. Using powerful words to explain this program is really going to be a breakthrough."   

The University ranks last in socioeconomic diversity among elite public colleges, a recent report by the Equality of Opportunity project found, and 66 percent of students come from the top 20 percent of the income distribution. The student body's median family income is $154,000, more than 81 percent higher than the state median. Just 17 percent of University students are Pell Grant recipients, as compared to the 33 percent national average. Schlissel said the guarantee represents the first step in changing the makeup of the campus community. 

The University's marketing campaign seemed to pay off, as students, faculty and alumni hailed the announcement online. 


 

As the $4 billion Victors for Michigan fundraising campaign comes to a close, Schlissel said he felt the University was finally poised financially to make the guarantee. Inspiration also came from the first-year results of the HAIL Scholarship program—Kedra Ishop, vice provost for enrollment management, said HAIL proved to administrators that initiatives could encourage low-income applicants. Both HAIL and Wolverine Pathways will continue to operate both alongside and in tandem with the guarantee.  

"If we're clear and transparent with families about cost and how they can mitigate cost, students will apply to institutions they may have decided not to apply to," she said. "And that's what HAIL showed us." 

HAIL recipient Deja White, an LSA sophomore, told the Daily in April the University can still do more to improve campus climate for low-income students, especially once they arrive on campus.

"As far as what they’re trying to do, I think it would be better to have more of a program and more integration into the University. If they really, truly wanted these people to come here, you’d think they would make them feel more accepted and more welcome.”  

This is a developing story. Check back at michigandaily.com for more updates.