C-SPAN’s Big Ten Tour rolled into town Monday morning for an interview with University President Mark Schlissel.

In a live, Q&A-style interview, Schlissel answered questions about a range of topics, though the conversation was dominated by questions regarding the accessibility and affordability of a University education.

C-SPAN, a cable network that primarily airs federal government proceedings and other public affairs programs, is conducting a bus tour to all 14 schools in the Big Ten to discuss higher education policy with university presidents and provosts.

Program hosts will speak Tuesday with Joseph Steinmetz, Ohio State University executive vice president and provost, followed by a discussion Thursday with Eric Barron, Pennsylvania State University president.

Throughout the interview, which aired on the C-SPAN series “Washington Journal” and included call-in questions from students, educators, faculty and Michigan residents, Schlissel repeatedly emphasized the role of public universities in challenging inequality.

“One of the missions of public universities is to, in effect, redress the misdistribution of income across our society,” he said. “To me, the most tried and true way to do that is through higher education. The challenge is to identify students, regardless of their background, who are talented enough to benefit from the level of education we provide here.”

When asked by a caller if he believes the University’s $13,486 in-state tuition and $41,906 out-of-state tuition — on top of $10,246 room and board charges — are affordable, Schlissel said he recognizes the costs.

“College is expensive,” he said. “I view it as a lifetime investment … another investment that families can make that will benefit their children throughout their lifetimes.”

He also stressed the administration’s commitment to making a University education accessible to all citizens of the state and — to the best extent possible — to students outside the state and around the world. Schlissel noted the University is one of few public institutions committed to a need-blind admissions policy for in-state applicants.

“If we are not successful making a college education affordable based on merit, based on willingness to work hard, then in the long run our country is in big trouble,” Schlissel said.

The University’s Victors for Michigan fundraising campaign is aiming to raise at least $1 billion for financial aid, scholarships, work-study programs and graduate fellowships.

In light of the 2008 economic downturn, Schlissel pinpointed the challenges associated with declining financial support from the state.

“I think much to their credit our current state government is beginning to reinvest in public higher education as the economy recovers, and that is a very good trend,” he said. “That said, the increase in tuition is inversely proportional to the decrease in public support. I would love to think the level of support would increase and the tuition would moderate, but the total amount of dollars it takes to give students an outstanding education is growing up modestly.”

Schlissel recalled his own time as an undergraduate student, when he took advantage of financial aid and loans, in addition to working an off-campus job, to cover the cost of college.

He also highlighted the University’s Flint and Dearborn campuses as prime options for people working toward a degree over a longer period of time, often while working or fulfilling other responsibilities.

The conversation about accessibility also touched on the reason tuition continues to increase when the University has an $8.4 billion endowment and Athletic Department spending continues to increase.

Schlissel said a significant portion of the endowment feeds financial aid and that the University is hard at work to fundraise additional support.

Though he recognized athletic spending has become larger as the public and media pay increased attention to college sports, he noted athletics don’t draw from the University’s general fund.

“Here at the University of Michigan we are very fortunate because of the attention of our alumni and the involvement of the community in supporting some of the major sports,” he said. “Our athletic programs are self-supporting.”

The men’s basketball and football programs provide enough resources to pay for all 27 other men’s and women’s sports, and provides approximately $20 million to the campus budget because it pays the cost of its athletic scholarships.

Though Schlissel almost exclusively answered questions regarding affordability in higher education, some callers questioned the breadth of University course requirements.

“College is more than trade school,” Schlissel said. “We are educating students for a lifetime and it is very difficult to predict what their lifetime needs will be.”

Schlissel said course requirements are diverse in order to provide students with a comprehensive undergraduate experience.

“The things driving the economy today barely existed 20 years ago,” Schlissel said. “We offer a breadth of different disciplines as well as a basic education with a set of what we hope are transferable skills to fuel a lifetime of personal satisfaction and employability.”

Throughout the 45-minute interview Schlissel consistently emphasized the University’s efforts to improve affordability — which he noted is a challenge for institutions across the nation.

“The core mission of the University is transforming lives through education and doing research that will fuel future opportunities in our economy,” he said.

Following Schlissel’s interview, the C-SPAN tour bus was open to students in front of Rackham Auditorium. The bus is customized as a multimedia demonstration vehicle that visits middle schools, high schools, universities, debates, book festivals and conventions.

The bus also includes touchscreen computers, televisions showing C-SPAN’s various programs, a mini-classroom area and free access to the network’s video library with more than 200,000 hours’ worth of coverage dating back to 1987.

Doug Hemmig, a C-SPAN community relations representative, said the program is hoping to raise awareness about the issues being faced by universities across the country.

“When we have the University president on it is really a chance to engage the whole community, not just the students, but the city, and discuss higher education,” he said.

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