Michigan State University students didn’t just have four more days of holiday break than we did to look forward to this January: When they return on Monday, they might have a refund waiting for them too. Like the University of Michigan, MSU raised its tuition rates this summer in fear that state funding was in jeopardy. But more funding than expected arrived in November, and now the university is passing some of it back to students. Here at the University, we want our money back too, please.
This summer was an uncertain time for Michigan’s state universities. While state legislators were showcasing their incompetence in Lansing, squabbling over tax hikes and spending cuts, these universities were left to figure out how to balance their own budgets. Across the state, universities prepared for the worst, raising tuition by an average of more than 10 percent.
Although its tuition hikes were comparatively low and partially offset by an 8.9-percent increase in financial aid, the University took the same approach. Tuition skyrocketed for undergraduate students by 7.4 percent and by 5 percent for graduate students. The increases were based primarily on the assumption that the University’s state funding would stay static at $320 million.
At the University of Michigan Board of Regents meeting in July when the decision was finalized, Regent Martin Taylor (D-Grosse Pointe Farms) emphasized, “If these assumptions are wrong, if they go the other way, I think it’s really incumbent of the regents to revisit this issue.”
Well, the assumptions went the other way. As promised, the state legislature paid back the $140 million it postponed in July. Even better, it increased funding by 1 percent for all state universities. It even separated the three research universities – the University of Michigan, MSU and Wayne State University – into their own appropriations bill, a change the University had been lobbying hard for Lansing to make.
Acknowledging the unexpected good news, last month Ferris State, Michigan State and Wayne State Universities officially announced plans to cut tuition rates for the winter semester or refund part of the fall semester’s tuition. At MSU, an estimated $3 million will be returned to students. Individual students could save more than $64 next semester if they meet several requirements.
While the individual reductions wouldn’t amount to much money for individual students and the University is hinting that the money would instead be used for President Mary Sue Coleman’s newest initiatives, it still has an obligation to share the unexpected funding. The tuition hike this summer was basically justified as short-term revenue needed to bail the University out of a potentially tough time at students’ expense. That justification no longer holds. The University won’t look too attractive to potential students unless it repays the favor either.
Equally as important, in a state where the average tuition has risen by 37 percent in the last six years, returning part of the funding increase to students would be a symbolic confirmation to Lansing that its funding is going directly to students. For a meager $3 million, the University can portray itself as an institution that puts students first, an image that is increasingly hard for the University to keep.
Besides, this is supposed to be the season of giving.