Need-based aid drops 39 percent-- College students facing much higher tuition

As some 700,000 Michigan public college students gear up for the new school year, they will find that grabbing the brass ring of a degree means digging deeper into their or their parents' pockets or wading deeper into debt, a report released today concludes.

Michigan's disinvestment in higher education is making it harder for students to complete those degrees, according to "Pulling the Plug on Michigan's Future: Why Draining Resources Hurts Tomorrow's Workforce."

The report found that state funding for the state's 15 public universities was cut 9 percent between 2006 and 2010, while tuition increased 31 percent in roughly the same time period.

When compared with other states, Michigan had the fifth-lowest investment in higher education and the seventh-highest tuition increase.

Similarly, funding for the 28 community colleges fell 7 percent between 2002 and 2010, while tuition jumped 41 percent.

"This comes at a time when there's widespread public recognition that education is the key to prosperity, not only for individuals but for our struggling state as a whole,'' said Sharon Parks, president and CEO of the Michigan League for Human Services.

"We are talking the talk but not walking the walk in investing in Michigan's postsecondary system."

Those who are successful in earning their degrees are leaving college with bigger loans to repay.

On average, Michigan students graduating with a bachelor's degree in 2008 left college with an average loan amount of $22,000 -- 44 percent more student loan debt than the graduating class of 2001.

In addition to cutting direct aid to universities and colleges, the state has cut support for financial aid. Michigan reduced financial aid from $218 million in 2009 to $79 million in 2010, a 64 percent drop.

Need-based aid dropped 39 percent between 2009 and 2010, from $127 million to $78 million. Of that, $12 million was from the elimination of three need-based programs, ending support to 15,000 low-income students.

The report calls for a mix of solutions, including new revenue to keep college affordable and to expand need-based financial aid. It also urges policymakers to look at the recommendations of the Cherry Commission, which were made by a bipartisan commission that met in 2004.

"Whether the next governor is a Republican or a Democrat, he would do well to revisit those recommendations and reduce barriers to graduation,'' Parks said.

"We cannot continue to tell Michigan's future workers that they must get an education while making it harder for them to achieve that.''

The report and executive summary can be found at www.milhs.org.

The Michigan League for Human Services is a statewide, nonprofit, nonpartisan policy and advocacy group for low-income residents.

It has a network of more than 1,500 from business, labor, human service professions and faith-based organizations as well as concerned citizens.

Published: Mon, Aug 16, 2010

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