ANN ARBOR, MI – University of Michigan Board of Regents members Denise Ilitch and Andrea Fischer Newman expressed concern that the 3.9 percent tuition increase in 2016 was another example of pricing out educational opportunities for low and middle-income families, voting against a 3.9 percent tuition increase.
“Are we raising tuition because we can, rather than because we should or absolutely need to?” Newman asked prior to last June’s vote. “If the answer is yes, we need to ask why. Addressing the missions of affordability and accessibility means we need to downsize education to fit the population, not spend more money continuing to grow an already expensive problem.”
A number of regents including Mark Bernstein and Shauna Ryder Diggs agreed that it was unfair for the burden of increased tuition costs to be put on students, but pointed to the disinvestment from the state in higher education as a reason to vote in favor of the increase.
“I refuse to be an accomplice to our state legislature’s foolish and shortsighted approach to higher education,” Bernstein said prior to casting a vote in favor of the tuition increase.
Ultimately, the board voted 5-3 in favor of approving the $1.94 billion budget that increased tuition from $13,856 to $14,402 in the lower division for in-state students and from $43,476 to $45,410 per year for non-Michigan residents.
With a 48 percent increase in tuition over the past 10 years for in-state students and 55.8 percent increase for out-of-state students at UM, the university’s Thursday, June 15 budget meeting will renew discussions between regents about whether another increase in tuition is needed, and if so, how much should be put on the backs of students.
It also comes at a shift in the makeup of the board, with the departure of Regent Larry Deitch, who voted in favor of a tuition increase last year. He is replaced by Ron Weiser, who expressed a desire to slow the rate of tuition increases while campaigning, suggesting that students should have the same tuition rate locked in during their four years of school.
“I do believe when a child comes here, whatever tuition he had in the first year should remain until the fifth year,” Weiser said during a candidate forum in October. “That doesn’t mean tuition can’t come up for the new kids that are coming in, because they know what they’re paying when they come in, but once they come in, they should have the same tuition.”
Could that lead to a divided Board of Regents vote on Thursday?
According to board policy, a 4-4 split would ultimately vote the budget down, meaning the budget would need to be voted on during the following month’s meeting, even though the university’s fiscal year ends on June 30.
Even if the budget is voted down, UM Spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said it is common to be without a new budget after the start of a new fiscal year.
If the budget is voted down, Fitzgerald said it is up to the board to determine how to proceed, noting that it used to vote on the general fund budget in July prior to 2008.
Members of the UM Board of Regents could not be reached for comment.
Special meetings may be called by the president of the university, when necessary, or at the request of three or more regents, if emergency action is required, prior to the next meeting.
Along party lines?
UM, like the vast majority of the state’s public institutions, has increased tuition over each of the past 10 years.
During that time, Republican members of the board were more likely to vote against tuition increases, with 12 votes in favor of increases and six dissenting.
Democrat members of the board have voted in favor of tuition increases 52 times, while dissenting nine times during the same time period.
Two of the board’s current members, Ilitch, a Democrat, and Newman, a Republican, are responsible for the majority of their party’s votes against tuition increases during that time. Ilitch has voted against hiking tuition six times, while voting for an increase only once since she has been on the board, while Newman has voted against increases in tuition four times and for hiking rates five times.
When UM approved its 2016-17 budget last June, it anticipated more than $1.6 billion in revenue from tuition and fees from students among the nearly $2.2 billion in budgeted revenue.
With a greater burden on students through tuition increases, UM has tried to alleviate those costs through financial aid.
To combat increases in tuition, UM has approved double-digit percentage increases in financial aid in nine of the last 10 years.
Fitzgerald noted that undergraduate financial aid budget has increased 11.3 percent per year, on average, over the past decade. This compares to an average annual growth rate of 4 percent for in-state undergraduate tuition during that time period.
U-M has consistently replaced loans with grants – which do not need to be repaid – for students with financial need, Fitzgerald said, stressing that students today with financial need pay less to attend UM than students did 10 years ago.
UM’s Board of Regents approved a 10.8 percent hike to financial aid for 2016-17, providing $15.6 million additional dollars to students in need among nearly $160 million in total financial aid for undergraduate students.
UM continues to see increases in state aid, with a 1.9 percent increase – nearly $6 million – expected for the coming fiscal year. The $314.6 million it will receive, however, remains lower than the $316.2 million it received from the state in 2010-11.
When Stefan Wanczyk’s family moved to Michigan from England a decade ago, discussions about where he was going to go to college were strategic.
Now a senior majoring in economics, Wanczyk formulated a plan to mitigate a heavy financial burden with the understanding that his father would pay the primary tuition bills.
That meant attending school in-state to avoid dramatic out-of-state tuition costs, living at home instead of on-campus and spending two years at Washtenaw Community College before enrolling at UM.
While Wanczyk admits his situation was more ideal than many of his fellow classmates, he feels the conservative, realistic budget approach has served him well.
“When I was looking at colleges, obviously with the rising cost of college, I looked at the cost of attending in-state versus out-of-state,” he said. “It was a no-brainer to go to the best college that you can in your state.
“I think it was put very kindly that there’s not a chance in hell that (my family was) going to pay (to go to UM) all four years,” he added. “The good thing is, there are things you can do to lower the burden, but it certainly prohibitive for a lot of people I know.”
Junior neuroscience student Jacqueline Welday said her family began making plans to pay for her education well before she was accepted to UM, opening a Michigan Education Trust account. The prepaid tuition plan allows for the pre-purchase of tuition based on today’s rates and is then paid out at at the future cost when the beneficiary is in college.
The trust allows family to pre-purchase undergraduate tuition for a child residing in Michigan to attend any Michigan public university or college.
Welday said she was fortunate to be able to have that burden alleviated, but understands that costs, from tuition to room and board and rising costs in off-campus housing for upperclassmen, are an issue for many students on campus.
“I would say increasing costs of college should be a primary focus to avoid,” she said. “Creating that kind of education barrier among different socioeconomic backgrounds shouldn’t stop you from getting an education. That should be a primary policy focus to make good public education readily available to all students.”
Here’s a look at UM’s recent tuition history:
Out of state tuition