No one knows the cost of college like LSA sophomore Charlie Fletcher. He’s pursuing a triple major in Spanish, linguistics as well as anthropology, taking 18 credits every single semester and working as a technician to pay for tuition.
Fletcher came to Ann Arbor instead of his first choice, the University of Virginia, because as a Michigan resident his tuition was inexpensive. He would have paid upwards of $35,000 in tuition as an out-of-state student in Virginia.
“It’s a large chunk of change,” Fletcher said.
At schools across the country, the cost of tuition has been rising steadily for years. The University hasn’t escaped this trend.
The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education found that between 1994 and 2004, tuition at four-year colleges increased by 39 percent. During that time, median family income rose just 22 percent in the state.
Though tuition is rising, the University hasn’t let tuition hikes outpace financial aid. Associate Provost Phil Hanlon said that while tuition increased 5.5 percent this school year, the University gave out 7.7 percent more financial aid. Because it’s a public university, Hanlon said that the school has a duty to serve Michigan students and keep costs low.
But Hanlon said there’s little the University can do to prevent tuition increases. Operating costs rise with the cost of commodities like food, supplies and energy. There is also continuing investments in new technology and teaching resources.
To cover its expenses, the University has two primary sources of income – state appropriations and tuition dollars.
The makeup of the University’s general fund has drastically changed over the past 40 years. In 1960, 78 percent of the University’s general fund came from state appropriations, and about 21 percent from tuition money. Over the next 40 years, state funding dropped and the University raised tuition to compensate.
By 2005, 60 percent of University funding came from tuition money and just 25 percent came from the state of Michigan. Research funding and miscellaneous income, like licensing fees on University apparel, cover the rest of the costs.
Had state funding to the University increased from 2002 levels at the same rate as inflation, the University would have received about $413 million in funding from the state this year instead of the $326 million allotted. But state appropriations dropped and left the University with an $87 million deficit between state appropriations and real costs, Hanlon said.
Compared to other Big Ten schools, the University of Michigan has kept prices in check. Statistics from the provost’s office show that between 2002 and 2007, in-state tuition rose 7 percent. That’s the lowest of Big Ten schools aside from Northwestern University, which is private. At Michigan State, tuition rose 9.3 percent during the same period. At Ohio State University, the Big Ten School with the greatest increase, it rose 11.9 percent.
The relatively small increase in tuition is due in part to a University cost-saving initiative that Berens said saved the University around $95 million over the past four years. That includes energy conservation projects – like saving water – and replacing old equipment with more efficient models. By keeping operating costs low, the University can hold down tuition.
At nearly $40,000 in total costs for out-of-state students and $20,000 in total costs for those from Michigan, the University costs nearly as much as private schools like Yale, though Hanlon said that the research and teaching here make the University a “very good deal.”