Education is moving out of reach
Public support is critical to make degree attainment more accessible
Over the past few years, a number of Michigan-based organizations have noted the growing challenge of college affordability in our state. From The Century Foundation’s “ Michigan’s College Affordability Crisis” report in 2019 to the recent “ Out of Reach: Examining the Price of Higher Education in Michigan” report from the Citizen’s Research Council of Michigan, the message is clear: As a state, we must do more to ensure every student has access to the life-changing experience of higher education.
At Central Michigan University, we have taken several steps to keep degree attainment accessible and affordable, including limiting tuition increases and increasing the number and value of scholarships; however, we will need additional support from our state leaders to fully address the growing concerns of students and their families.
Benefits of degree attainment are moving out of reach
Over their lifetimes, bachelor’s degree holders earn over 80% more than workers with only a high school diploma, and they are less likely to be unemployed. They also enjoy a variety of personal benefits, including better overall health, longer life expectancy and greater overall happiness. The communities in which they live and work also benefit; the “spillover effects” from educational attainment include higher contributions, through taxes, to government programs, larger donations to nonprofit organizations, increased civic engagement and volunteerism, and more.
However, degree attainment is moving out of reach for many students and their families. According to the "Out of Reach" report, a typical Michigan family can now expect to invest as much as “21 percent of their annual income to afford one year of public university education.” As a percentage of annual income, that is entering the realm of what the average family spends on housing or on food each year.
Factors leading to higher costs
While rising operational expenses and inflation have certainly contributed to the increased costs of degree attainment, they are not the sole cause of the higher tuition and fees that today’s students face at Michigan’s public universities. Over the past few decades, public investment in higher education has lagged significantly, shifting more of the burden of higher education costs onto students and their families.
The Citizens Research Council of Michigan’s report notes that, over the last thirty years, the public subsidy share at Michigan universities declined nearly 40 percent. The report makes it clear: “stagnant growth in public subsidy revenue is primarily responsible for making college less affordable, especially for four-year universities.” It is also important to note that, for several years in that timeframe, there were declines in financial aid for students from state and local sources, causing “Michigan to shift from being a state where grant aid receipt rates were quite high to being a state where the percentage of students receiving grant aid is below the national average.”
CMU is proud to serve Michigan students and families. We enroll students from nearly every county in the state, and more than 85% of our on-campus students are from Michigan. About 70% of our graduates live, work and lead in Michigan, significantly contributing to the economic and civic health of communities throughout the state.
We want our Michigan graduates to have the same opportunities and to be as competitive in the labor market as their peers in other states.
What We Do at CMU, and what more we need
We will continue to do all we can to keep a CMU degree within reach for students and their families – but we cannot do this alone.
We strive to keep tuition and fees low: CMU offers one of the state’s lowest undergraduate tuition rates and is among the most competitive for master’s degrees. We have expanded need-based aid and increased both the number and the value of our merit-based scholarships. We make it easy for students and families to understand their financial aid packages; in the past year, CMU was ranked among the top colleges and universities in the nation for scholarship transparency. We are seeking ways to offer greater flexibility and opportunities for education, including both degree and non-degree options through CMU Innovation and Online.
We seek the continued support of our state leaders in providing increased funding for the operations of Michigan’s public universities and additional investment in student aid, helping to keep degree attainment affordable for our students.
We are grateful for the recent steps state leaders have taken to support higher education in Michigan — especially the establishment of the Michigan Achievement Scholarship and last year’s increase in appropriations. The governor’s executive budget recommendation also offered several positive steps, including the four percent increase for operational expenses, additional funding for the Michigan Achievement Scholarship, and support for ITEM funding. We hope this marks the beginning of a trend in reinvestment in educational attainment.
We also encourage our leaders to consider addressing the disparity that remains in state funding among our 15 public institutions. Across-the-board allocations are certainly helpful, but we hope leaders will consider targeted, equitable distribution of public funds to address the varied needs and contributions of each institution.
We look forward to partnering with the governor’s team and our state legislature in the months ahead. As we work together to create a bright future for our state, we are proud of our role in investing in our greatest resource: Our students.