As state lawmakers rush to finalize the budget, a battle is raging in Lansing over the future of the University’s state funding, as happens every year. Just a couple of weeks ago, students from universities around the state, including the University of Michigan, rallied at the statehouse to tell their legislators to increase higher education funding and relieve their rising tuition rates. But an increase in state funding to the University is not needed. The money would be better used back in taxpayers’ hands.

Although static state funding to the University would result in higher tuition rates, a larger part of the blame should be placed on rising university spending. Over the past three years, the University’s general budget has increased an average of 5 percent per year, 2 percentage points higher than inflation. Because of Michigan’s falling higher education funding, tuition has had to rise faster.

Lower division in-state LSA tuition has risen an average of 8.5 percent per year over the past three years. But this kind of tuition hike is not unique to our university. A report released by the College Board on Monday revealed that the average tuition hike for a four-year public college last year was 6.6 percent. While blame for large tuition hikes consistently falls on lower state funding for public universities, private universities had an average tuition hike almost as high.

It seems that higher-than-inflation tuition hikes are here to stay. Universities are constantly struggling to get the best professors and newest programs so that they appeal to students and hope that the best students decide to attend their school. Every school is looking to be as prestigious as possible. Our own university’s efforts seem to be paying off. The number of students applying to the University of Michigan rises year after year, undeterred by ever increasing tuition prices.

This sign that rising tuition costs are not affecting applications to the University is indicative that the high cost of college is worth the degree. The College Board calculates that a bachelor’s degree-holding graduate will, on average, make $787,650 more than a high school graduate in his or her lifetime. Considering that figure, tuition would have to rise to almost $200,000 per year to make college not worth it. And the value of the degree keeps rising.

According the College Board, male college graduates today earn 63 percent more than their high school graduate counterparts, a rise of 44 percent over the past 30 years. Women with bachelor’s degrees today earn 70 percent more than those with high school diplomas, twice the rate from 30 years ago.

For those who can’t afford the initial investment in college, financial aid here at the University is constantly increasing. The University puts a great emphasis on making sure that college is affordable to all students. To ensure this goal, it increases financial aid funding by at least an amount equal to the tuition hike. While in-state lower division LSA tuition has risen an average of 8.5 percent per year over the past three years, undergraduate financial aid funding has risen at the rate of 11 percent per year. In such a way, the University has actually become a little more affordable to low-income students over the last few years.

As the University becomes more affordable to low-income students and the number of applications continues to grow despite tuition increases, additional state funding is not needed. Gov. Jennifer Granholm is currently arguing that as a research university, the University of Michigan deserves more funding because it brings money into the state. While this may be true, the effect would be nullified if the University had to sap money from Michigan’s tax base in order to bring money into the state.

Michigan’s families need that money more. The state’s new service tax and higher income tax is putting more of a tax burden on Michigan taxpayers, even as they continue to face salary cuts and layoffs. It is not fair for students at the University to demand that more taxes fall on the shoulders of struggling Michigan families because their own budgets are being strained by tuition hikes. Students today have ample financial aid resources and a huge return on their investment in college. Michigan’s families are not as fortunate. It’s time for the state to stop increasing funding to higher education at their expense.

Patrick Zabawa can be at pzabawa@umich.edu.

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