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Marygrove College’s outgoing president David J. Fike is leaving Detroit a parting gift: A surprising reversal in tuition rates for about a third of the college’s undergraduate students.

Beginning in September, tuition rates for part-time students at the college will drop 16.5 percent, at a time when virtually every other Michigan college is raising rates.

Fike, an economist who will head Golden Gate University in San Francisco beginning in August after nine years as Marygrove’s president, said a tough market wasn’t the impetus. “The whole question of affordability and access is huge nationally and it is exponentially so for us, because we serve so many students who have a disproportionately high need.”

Wayne State University, for example, just announced an increase of 3.2 percent for its 2016 fiscal year. Marygrove is also raising tuition 2.8 percent in the fall for full-time students, or about two-thirds of the undergraduates. Virtually all of Marygrove’s full-time students who maintain B averages and demonstrate financial need receive grants and loans that cover their costs, Fike said.

Marygrove’s decision to reverse course, at least partially, illustrates both increasing competition for students and the unique situation Marygrove faces as a private institution that recruits its students largely from the city as a matter of policy and its social values.

Cutting tuition is a way — and likely the only way — to make college more affordable, especially for students who cannot attend full time and don’t have access to grants. Part-time students are particularly hard hit, after a change in federal grant rules that eliminated Pell grants for summer college students. Those grants traditionally subsidized a majority of Margygrove’s part-time students.

Although Marygrove was historically a school for the daughters of Detroit’s once huge and affluent Catholic base, it has long since embraced the city’s changed demographics, choosing to remain rooted in the city. Under Fike, the school has sought to establish itself as a training ground for urban leaders.

Its students are no longer mostly Catholic and, since the 1970s, the college has admitted men.

Even in the best of times, Fike observes, serving low-income college students and maintaining financial viability “is no cake walk.” Yet Marygrove has staked out a path that kept it independent, while staying true to concerns of social justice that are part of its heritage.

Marygrove chose to maintain its identity as a small, liberal arts Catholic college dedicated to serving the city, even as its neighbors, the University of Detroit and Mercy College, merged. Founded as an academy for women in 1845 in Monroe by the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, the Detroit campus opened in 1927.

One of the Monroe order’s original founders, Theresa Maxis Duchemin, whose mother was Haitian and wealthy father refused to acknowledge her, was ultimately expelled from the order. It took more than a century for Mother Theresa Maxis to be fully recognized, for her mixed-racial heritage to be celebrated. “The Sisters were adamant about staying in Detroit,” says Fike.

lberman@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2032

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