University of Michigan will offer free tuition for some students

Dive Brief:

  • The University of Michigan at Ann Arbor will offer free tuition for in-state students from families who make less than $65,000 a year, according to President Mark Schlissel. 
  • Some critics say a proposal like Michigan’s does not take the most necessary steps to alleviate the high costs of college, such as living expenses. Temple University Professor Sara Goldrick-Rab said universities would need to consider changing admissions procedures to see a boost in low-income student enrollment.
  • Michigan’s $4 billion capital campaign includes $1 billion marked for student assistance.

Dive Insight:

As free tuition proposals gain popularity at many schools and even become policy at public institutions in New York, tuition discounting has also become increasingly popular in the past several years, with some institutions discounting at a loss to get students on campus. Some schools are pursuing these proposals due to a lack of financial support from state and federal government, though there is concern that schools that offer discounts and free tuition in the face of declining revenue and deficits are in an untenable situation for the long term.

A lack of available resources being supplied by state legislatures make it more likely that schools will have to follow the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor’s approach, which is to support their financial aid efforts through robust private fundraising. Experts criticize the uneven distribution of low-income students at wealthy institutions. Only 13% of students in universities with endowments between $5 and $10 billion receive Pell grants, and for wealthier schools the percentage is about 15%. 

School leaders must also recognize that for many low-income students, tuition cost is not the biggest hindrance for enrolling at a prestigious university. One of the most consistent criticisms of the New York announcement was that room and board costs can sometimes be twice as high as tuition costs. A student from a low-income background may receive tuition assistance at a New York university, but the same barriers to entry may still be present when trying to manage staying in school, possibly without time to work as much, while maintaining New York City rental prices. If these costs remain unaddressed, it is unclear that tuition discounts or free tuition will remove the stumbling blocks to greater accessibility.

Filed Under: Higher Ed Policy & Regulation
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