Administrators at Davidson College recently announced a program to ensure that every student who attends the North Carolina liberal arts college will graduate debt-free. While the loan-free policy instituted by Davidson is unrealistic at this time for a university the size of ours, making higher education more affordable by offering grants and scholarships to more students is a realistic goal for every college.
While Davidson College is one of first liberal arts colleges to attempt in this way to make higher education less of a financial risk, many private universities – Ivy League institutions in particular – have already begun to offer more grants to their students in place of student loans. In some cases – Harvard and Princeton, for example – universities have even subsidized the entire cost of tuition to low-income students. This may be easily feasible for Harvard and its nearly $30 billion endowment, but at our university that would likely require serious belt-tightening and fundraising efforts.
What private colleges can pull off seemingly scot-free most state-funded schools simply cannot do, even with drastic cuts. Students are drowning in debt, trying to pay off student loans. Tuition rates across the country have risen, even above inflation. Congress seems oblivious to students’ plight, given that it cut back federal student loan programs just last year. It has long been the University’s mission to provide higher education to not just the rich and elite. With a little maneuvering and some commonsense legislation in Lansing, it can live up to that promise.
After the passage of Proposal 2 last November, the University has had to search for ways to encourage diversity. One way to build diversity is to ensure that as many people apply as possible. But prospective students may be deterred by the fact that the University is one of the most expensive public institutions in the country. To encourage not just the brightest and best but also the most diverse student body, the University must begin offering more comprehensive, less loan-based financial aid packages.
But such a system cannot arise overnight. The money won’t appear out of thin air. The University already spends much of its time fundraising and donation-hunting from alumni. Creating an alumni fund intended specifically help pay for more grants for the neediest students is certainly not an outrageous demand. Alums who care for the well-being of the University should give to the University what it needs, not pick and choose pet projects with superflous tied aid. However, this fund ought to still be accompanied by a stronger commitment to higher education from the state.
It is becoming more apparent that an educated workforce encourages a robust economy. With only a quarter of Michigan residents having a college degree, it should be no surprise that our economy is floundering. Instead of cutting funds to higher education, more money should be allocated to higher education. This increase in funds should go to providing grants to offset the cost of tuition and ensure that the University remains a viable option to students of under privileged backgrounds.