Last year, University students receiving the Michigan Competitive Scholarship, a need- and merit-based grant funded through the state, were awarded about $500 per year. However, in the 2001-2002 school year, these same students would have received a maximum amount of $1,300 from the scholarship.
This $800 decrease in MCS funds awarded to students reflects a larger, growing trend at the University: a drastic decline in state-funded financial aid over the past decade.
In 2001, University students received about $11.1 million in financial aid from the state, but by 2012 this figure had decreased to about $2.3 million, according to Pamela Fowler, executive director of financial aid.
Fowler said the University has taken measures to make up for the loss in state-funded grants like the MCS. Despite the decrease in state-funded, need-based scholarships, the University has increased the funding of average need-based grants through the reallocation of institutional and federal funds.
“Since UM is committed to meeting the full need of all resident students, when the MCS award was reduced, UM covered this loss of funds,” Fowler said. “Therefore fewer funds were available to improve student aid packages for all students.”
As part of this commitment, the University’s $4 billion Victors for Michigan campaign includes a $1 billion goal earmarked for student aid.
During preparations for the campaign, University Provost Martha Pollack asked development organizers to double the $545 million raised for financial aid in the University’s most recent campaign, the Michigan Difference, which concluded in 2008.
“I just have to say, we swallowed hard,” said Jerry May, vice president for development, in a November interview. “We thought, well, we might be able to get to $800 million with a lot of hard work and some really big gifts — like $25 or $50 million gifts for scholarships — but the provost made the case that we needed to work harder … They have said to the deans that ‘We need everybody here to know that this is our number one priority.’ ”
The decrease in state-funded, need-based grants at the University is a result of years of state budget cuts for higher education, which have affected every public university in the state.
While higher education funding has decreased nationwide during the economic recession, Michigan has reduced funds more than most states, cutting a third of its higher education funding between 2008 and 2012.
However, organizations such as the Presidents Council, State Universities of Michigan — a nonprofit, higher education advocacy organization — are working to reverse the trend.
PCSUM Executive Director Michael Boulus said he recognizes the need to increase funding.
“We’re one of the worst-funded states in the nation,” Boulus said. “(PCSUM’s) task is very simple. We’d like to see a long-term investment in support for higher education to make us a top-10 state in university support.”
State Rep. Jeff Irwin (D–Ann Arbor) said increasing state financial support for higher education in areas such as funding for need-based grants will have a large effect on college students.
“It’s important for the individuals,” he said. “We have young people who are bright and hardworking coming up in the state of Michigan, and having great public universities that are affordable are crucial for the individuals.”