Letter: UM easing burden on middle-class students

Regarding “Free not always a great deal, June 18,” we agree that “attention needs to be paid to assuring that talented students from all income levels have a chance at a quality education.” But the editorial suggests UM Ann Arbor’s Go Blue Guarantee is being paid for by increasing tuition on middle-class students. In fact, UM has made college achievement easier for this critical and financially challenged segment of the population.

Our growing investment in need-based financial aid (increases averaging over 10 percent per year) has resulted in the net cost of attending UM going down over the past decade for middle-class Michiganians with family incomes up to about $110,000. And for most students receiving financial aid, increased aid covers the full cost of any tuition increase. The Go Blue Guarantee promises free tuition for students from families up to about the median family income in our state, plus any additional aid they qualify for based on their individual circumstances.

We share your concern about student debt as well. A little more than half of in-state students borrow money to attend UM, and for more than a decade, we have been reducing loans in financial aid packages. Your editorial overestimated the debt figure at graduation for those who borrow; it is now $23,438. Students from families with incomes below $40,000 receive aid without any need for loans.

We are able to provide this high level of financial aid because of the generosity of UM donors. Our current Victors for Michigan Campaign has raised nearly $1 billion for student support and 21 percent of our endowment is dedicated to financial aid. In addition, over the past 13 years, we’ve cut or avoided costs totaling $356 million. These cost savings and fundraising success have been essential since UM gets the same funding from the state that it did in 1997, even though the university is now 20 percent larger and inflation has totaled 49.5 percent. State funding used to make up 64 percent of our general fund budget; now it only totals 16 percent. If our state budget had grown only at the rate of inflation, it would be $186 million greater than it is this year.

UM’s admissions process does not consider a student’s ability to pay, and financial aid for students from families above the Guarantee’s $65,000 income threshold will continue to be supported by our commitment to meeting need at all income levels. This means that talented and hard working students from all families across our state, including the middle class, will have the same opportunity for a UM education.

Finally, it is important to consider what Michiganians are getting for their money. UM has the highest freshman retention rate (97 percent) of all public research universities in the United States, a 90 percent graduation rate (U.S. average 58 percent), and salaries of graduates 170 percent of the national average. And our students graduate from the No. 1 public research university in the country. So, at least in this case, free is a great deal.

Mark Schlissel

president, University of Michigan