High Student Debt, Tuition Linked to Michigan’s Disinvestment in Higher Education

A new report by the Michigan League for Public Policy (MLPP) attributes the state’s lack of investment in higher education to skyrocketing tuition and massive student debt for the state’s thousands of college students.

Since the 2002-2003 academic year, Michigan’s funding for higher education has declined by 30 percent. In addition, the state spends only $223 per student on need-based financial aid, a figure far below the national average and all but one other Midwestern state. Authors of the report say that these factors are the reason average student debt for Michigan students is now $29,450 — the ninth highest in the U.S.

“This isn’t just about college students and their families. This is about what we value here in Michigan,” vice president of MLPP Karen Holcomb-Merrill told Mlive.com. “If we value a college education, if we value a good, strong workforce, we have to fund those values.”

In 2011, in his first year in office, Gov. Rick Snyder cut the state’s higher education budget by 15 percent but has increased funding incrementally since that time. However, according to Holcomb-Merrill, the state still allocates less to public colleges and universities than it did 10 years ago.

The MLPP report calls for a “significant” investment in state higher education, as well as the implementation by lawmakers of “stronger tuition restraint or tuition reduction strategies.” In addition, its authors are also recommending that the Michigan legislature boost funding for need-based financial aid.

“[Michigan] invests far less in need-based grants proportional to its student population than most other states and has completely eliminated state financial aid for students over age 30 attending a public university or community college,” the report states.

The state’s investment in this area has dropped from $303 per full-time undergraduate student during the 1991-1992 academic year to $223 in 2013-2014, where it currently remains.

The overall decrease in state support for higher education hurts working adults the most, Holcomb-Merrill said, as they are either unable to attend college or are forced to borrow more money.

“There are people over the age of 30 who would like to complete a degree but the lack of financial aid is a barrier,” she said. “It does run counter intuitive to [the goal] of having more [people] more highly educated and to bolster our workforce here in Michigan.”