A new study from the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education has found that across the United States, tuition increased 439% from 1982 to 2006 while median family income increased 147%.
In Michigan, politicians frequently talk about increasing the number of college graduates. as a way to revitalize the state’s economy, but that goal often remains illusive. The study concludes that Michigan is not educating its population at a level needed in a competitive economy.
A major factor is tuition, which has risen nationally and in Michigan. To attend college in Michigan, families must make considerable sacrifices. Michigan’s two-year schools cost less than the national average (average $2,207), but four-year colleges cost more (average $8,454). This creates a situation where families must pay a high percentage of their family income to afford college–an average of 23% for two-year schools and 34% for four-year public universities. The 40% of the population with the lowest incomes earn an average of $19,118. If a family earning that amount were to send a child to college, even after financial aid they would spend $6,276 for a two-year school (33% of income) or $9,254 (48% of income).
At the same time, Michigan’s investment in financial aid has decreased since the 1990s. The state’s investment in need-based aid is “very low” compared to top performing states. For every dollar in Pell Grant aid to students, the state spends only 28 cents. Moreover, the study concludes, “Michigan does not offer low-priced college opportunities.”
Beyond the high cost of a college education, other barriers remain, particularly around race. Michigan has long had disparities between students of color and white students. For example, only 80% of African-Americans have a high diploma compared to 91% of white students. There is a 15% graduation gap between whites and students of color at four-year institutions, with 32% of African-Americans graduating from four-year institutions compared to 58% of white students. Overall, sixteen percent of African-Americans have a bachelor’s degree, compared with 28 percent of whites. The study doesn’t go into reasons why these disparities exist.
Unfortunately, its unlikely this will improve soon, as voters in Michigan passed a ban on affirmative action in 2006. Already, there has been a decline in minority enrollment at Grand Valley State University (GVSU) and colleges face challenges keeping numbers of underrepresented students at pre-Proposal 2 levels.
Moreover, as the economy continues to decline and state governments continue to face budget difficulties, it seems unlikely much headway will be made in addressing the cost of higher education or increasing access.