As college tuition continues to outpace inflation, students coming from low- and middle-income families are finding it increasingly difficult to find the money necessary finance a higher education. To help combat the soaring costs of attendance, the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts has a plan to raise $500 million and triple the number of students who receive donor-funded scholarships. The LSA administration hopes that these scholarships will attract not only those students that would otherwise opt to go to private schools, but also those who are unable to afford a University education without significant financial assistance. However, because the donors themselves must decide whether their funds will be used for merit or need-based scholarships, there is a risk that need-based financial aid will be overlooked.
The largest fraction of the University’s freshman class — 24 percent — is composed of students coming from families with incomes of $100,000 to $149.000. An additional 13 percent of freshman students come from families that earn over $250,000. A full 55 percent of students have families with an annual income in excess of $100,000. Considering that the average family income in Michigan is $67,000, it is easy to see that the University’s student body is skewed toward individuals from wealthy families. This is in no small part due to the University’s tuition, which is exorbitantly high for a public university. Many prospective students, even those from the middle class, cannot scrounge up enough financial aid to attend.
The elite, private universities with which the University competes already have comprehensive, donor-funded scholarship programs that guarantee that anyone who is accepted has the means to attend. Harvard University, which enjoys the largest endowment in the country, aims to make itself completely free for all low-income students. This scholarship drive, which could theoretically enable LSA to provide scholarships for 15 percent of all enrolled students, is a step toward allowing the University to make a similar pledge. While it is ultimately up to donors to decide how their scholarship money is allocated, LSA officials should conscientiously solicit donations for need-based scholarship funds.
As a public institution, the University should not have to rely on generous alumni to subsidize the cost of attendance for middle- and low-income students. It is the responsibility of the state government to make sure public universities are able to provide top-quality education at affordable prices. However, as tuition costs increase, state funding dries up and administrators rely on alumni donations to fund scholarships and subsidize costs, the University is becoming increasingly private and restrictive. Former University President James Angell once boasted that the University provided “an uncommon education for the common man.” While the LSA scholarship drive should help make this pledge a reality again, it will take a change in direction at the state level for the University to once again become a truly affordable and public institution.