Study: Low-income, students of color squeezed in Michigan’s college affordability crisis

By: - September 7, 2019 9:11 am

A new study shows that Michigan’s public universities and community colleges are facing an affordability crisis, which has especially hit low-income families hard. 

The study from the New York-based progressive think tank the Century Foundation shows how rising tuitions and cuts in state funding create barriers for students to receive higher education. 

“The report shows a strong validation of what’s going on in Michigan with a state disinvestment in higher education,” said Daniel Hurley, CEO of Michigan Association of State Universities. 

Michigan allocates $5,492 per public university full-time equivalent student, ranking the 12th-lowest nationally. The state spends $3,265 per community college student, which ranks the 15th-lowest in the country. 

According to the study, this is even lower for students of color. The authors of the report say they estimate that the median black student enrolled in a public university is supported by $4,461 in state appropriations, compared to the median white student, who is estimated to be supported by $5,466 in state funding. Because the exact number of students based on race is unknown, the authors of the study used the racial distribution of students by headcount to estimate financial support for students of color. 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer at her first State of the State address | Casey Hull

In Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s State of the State address in February, she set a goal to raise the percentage of Michigan’s population with higher education or post-high school certificates to 60% by 2030. However, Hurley said Michigan needs to invest more in students of color, non-traditional students and students from low-income families in order to meet that benchmark. 

“It’s admirable that we have a goal for 60% of the state having a degree or certificate, but we need to have all ores in the water,” Hurley said. “In order to have a workforce that is going to power a future economy, we have no choice but to try to have a greater proportion of the population that is historically underrepresented in higher education.” 

As the Michigan Advance previously reported, the state ranked 44th nationally in per-resident support for higher education, according to data compiled by the Center for the Study of Education Policy at Illinois State University and the State Higher Education Executive Officers (SHEEO).

Another study done by the National Association of State Budget Officers, a nonpartisan research organization based in Washington, D.C., further validates that Michigan invests less nationally in public universities and colleges. In 2018, higher education composed 4.1% of state expenditures, much lower than the national average of 10.1%. 

As the impasse between Whitmer and GOP leaders over the Fiscal Year 2020 budget continues, education funding remains a flashpoint. 

Whitmer proposed a 3% overall increase for the state’s public universities and community colleges in the upcoming budget. But the Senate has passed a 1% increase and the House has only passed a .4% increase.

The budget deadline is Sept. 30.

Hurley said he’s hopeful for the future of Michigan’s students based on Whitmer’s efforts to reinvest in education and strides taken by individual institutions.

“Where the state has stepped back, regarding investment in higher education, the institutional financial aid has stepped up,” Hurley said.

The state’s 15 public universities have put forth about $1 billion for student financial aid, Hurley said. 

The Century Foundation also reported Michigan public universities’ tuition per student is the highest in the nation, considering all federal and state appropriations.

Compared to bordering states, Wisconsin has the eighth-lowest average tuition, Ohio ranked 28th and Indiana was 41st.

Although tuition prices are high in Michigan, Hurley said institutions are doing what they can to keep the cost of education down for students. Hurley said, however, that Michigan students, on average, pay 40% less than the full sticker price for education when including all financial aid.

He added that despite the high costs of education, he hopes students “aren’t dissuaded from getting a secondary education.”

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Allison R. Donahue
Allison R. Donahue

Allison R. Donahue covers education, women's issues and LGBTQ issues. Previously, she was a suburbs reporter at the St. Cloud Times in St. Cloud, Minn., covering local education and government. As a graduate of Grand Valley State University, she has previous experience as a freelance researcher for USA Today and an intern with WOOD TV-8. When she is away from her desk, she spends her time going to concerts, comedy shows or getting lost on hikes in different places around the world.