June 17, 2014 at 11:47 pm

Students brace for news on U-M, MSU, WSU tuition increases

One of the most anticipated and feared decisions affecting Michigan students comes next week as the state’s Big Three universities set tuition costs for next year.

The University of Michigan makes its announcement Thursday, followed by Michigan State University on Friday and Wayne State University the following Friday.

U-M’s new rate is expected to be comparable to last year when the university increased tuition by 1.1 percent, the lowest in 30 years. It comes as the university is in the midst of an unprecedented fundraising campaign and weeks before President-elect Mark Schlissel takes office.

Also closely watched will be Wayne State, which last year spiked tuition by a whopping 8.9 percent, followed by official promises that it wouldn’t happen again.

Tuition season arrives as national concern mounts about student loan debt that has soared to historic levels.

For now, most students, Sneazana Vranic among them, are simply hoping that costs don’t go up.

“Education is very important, right? That’s what they tell us,” said Vranic, a Wayne State biology major from Windsor. “Then they put all these obstacles in front of us. Tuition is just tuition. It doesn’t include books, parking or living expenses. ... It’s enough already.”

Last week President Barack Obama signed an executive order to allow students with who took out federal-backed student loans before 2007 to pay no more than 10 percent of their income in monthly payments.

Starbucks also announced it will offer its workers a free online college education at Arizona State University.

In western Michigan, the Kalamazoo Promise — which pays college tuition of Kalamazoo public school students — has expanded to include 15 of Michigan’s private colleges.

Much of the tuition increases came after state support for universities plummeted because of the recession.

Meanwhile, student debt continued to soar. In 2012, seven out of 10 college seniors nationally, graduated with student loan debt, averaging $29,400, according to a 2013 report by the Project on Student Debt.

Education advocates have pointed to research showing that four-year degrees lead to more earning power, a greater immunity from unemployment and higherstate per capita incomes.

Locally, Business Leaders for Michigan and others have lobbied the state Legislature for years to reinvest in the state’s 15 public universities as a way of investing in the state’s future.

This year, for the first time in 14 years, Michigan universities have gotten a significant bump in state funding after years of disinvestment. Just last week, the Legislature approved $1.43 billion for higher education — a 5.9 percent increase over the previous year.

“The hope continues to be that the state continues to understand the main reason why tuition is so high is the huge reduction in state support,” said Lou Glazer, president of Michigan Future Inc. “The price has to be paid for.”

It’s also the first time that the Legislature is adding Pell grants as a new metric in incentive funding — a pot of money used to encourage universities to keep tuition increases within a capped amount.

This year, lawmakers set 3.2 percent as the limit for tuition increases for public universities to get the incentive funding.

So far, Eastern Michigan, Western Michigan, Ferris State, Saginaw Valley State, Northern Michigan and Central Michigan universities have set tuition — all have been at or below the 3.2 percent tuition cap.

Michael Boulus, executive director of the Presidents Council, State Universities of Michigan, said the climate for higher education is looking better.

“This is the best budget we’ve had this century,” Boulus said. “We’re extremely pleased we could get an increase of this significance. We’ve said all along, as long as we start getting our state support we’ll be able to moderate tuition. And I think we are doing that.”

Tim Wiseman, a Wayne State University student who recently took a few classes at Macomb Community College so he could afford to get his degree, hopes so.

He’s almost reached his limit in federal student loans and he’d rather not take out a personal loan or borrow from friends or family to finish his last year. “I hope they go easy,” said the St. Clair Shores resident. “I don’t like to borrow money, period.”

kkozlowski@detroitnews.com