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‘Free tuition’ not so free after all

The University of Michigan recently instituted a “free tuition” program for students whose families make less than $65,000 per year, signifying a “long-standing commitment to ensuring that qualified students from Michigan can afford a U-M education,” according to University of Michigan president Mark Schlissel.

But the deal isn’t as free as it’s made out to be, at least according to one local newspaper.

“It would be a marvelous program — if it were being paid for by tapping the school’s endowment, or with a separate philanthropic drive, or by slashing spending elsewhere,” writes the editorial board of The Detroit News.

“But instead it will be financed with another tuition hike — 2.9 percent for undergraduates and 4.5 percent for out-of-state scholars.”

Tuition increases at the University of Michigan, the editors claim, have already been “relentless.” As well, middle-class students who may fall above the income threshold “will find the state’s premier public university further from their reach.”

“While Pell grants and other assistance are available to lower income students,” they continue, “there is less help for those from middle class families, who are the most reliant on student loans to pay for college.

“UM is setting itself up as a school accessible to the poor and rich, but not so much by the middle.”

From the editorial:

That’s one of many reasons Republican Regent Andrea Newman cast the lone dissenting vote against the tuition hike.

“There are going to be many families, particularly middle-class families, who will be priced out of the opportunity for the world-class education available at the University of Michigan,” Newman says.

The university says it will help pay for the free tuition program with “aggressive cost-cutting.” But what passes as aggressive cost controls on campus wouldn’t register in most other places, where unchecked spending can’t simply be passed on to customers.

“There are two sides of the ledger, and this budget focuses far too much on the revenue side,” Newman says. “Until we can take measures to address the spending side as well, I am voting no.”

Thank goodness for her example, even if it was ignored by the other seven board members.

When universities want some new shiny thing, they nearly always default to raising tuition instead of looking for other programs they could trim or kill.

“The university would serve all of its students better,” the board declares, “by attacking spending and committing to holding tuition firm until household incomes begin catching up with the cost of college.”

Read the editorial here.

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