Go Blue Guarantee vs. Spartan Advantage: how financial aid compares
Truhconte Davis lost her Pell Grant again.
Davis has been on financial aid since her freshman year, in the form of subsidized loans. She describes her family as lower-middle class and said her mother, a single parent, makes around $60,000 a year.
While financial aid has been a massive help to her, it’s also been a headache. Davis, a microbiology senior, said she became eligible for a $3,000 per semester Pell Grant during her junior year, but she keeps losing it because her mother’s income is too high.
“It has been a pressure, we try to find ways to make it look like she makes less money,” Davis said. “Honestly I haven’t found a way, they just keep taking money everywhere they can because my mom makes too much money, according to financial aid.”
Davis said the Pell Grant typically covers her entire cost of housing each semester, but without it she has to take out extra loans. Despite her aid and family income, Davis has $30,000 in debt, she said.
In June, the University of Michigan unveiled its “Go Blue Guarantee.” This financial aid initiative promises four years of free tuition to in-state undergraduate students whose family annual income amounts to $65,000 or less a year.
After the announcement, many watched to see if MSU would follow its rival’s suit and provide similar relief to lower-income students.
It did not.
At the June 21 MSU Board of Trustees meeting, just days later, the board voted to increase tuition for the seventh straight year.
After seeing U-M take what they perceived as a huge step forward, some at MSU felt the university had missed an opportunity to break ground on its own program.
As her family would qualify based on income, Davis said a program similar to the GBG at MSU would help her family out significantly.
“I have a sister in college,” Davis said. “She has bills herself, so (my mom) can’t just dish out $16,000 a year for my tuition.”
But, the question of implementing a similar program at MSU remains on the table. Considering differences in the two universities’ student populations, would a “Go Green Guarantee” be feasible?
MSU’s financial aid homepage has a running counter for how much aid students were offered for the upcoming academic year.
As of Aug. 3, it claimed MSU offered 47,652 students a total of over $952,082,645 in financial aid for the next fall and spring semesters. As of Sept. 28, it claims over $1 billion has been offered to over 50,000 students.
However, the former numbers will be much more than what will be given this year, according to Val Meyers, associate director of MSU’s Office of Financial Aid.
“The aid that we give out is our aid plus federal aid, so that’s why it’s really different than the $600-some million that we’re giving out every year, that’s gonna include federal dollars as well as MSU dollars,” Meyers said.
MSU’s financial aid budget is set to increase 4.5 percent yearly. MSU spent $138.3 million on financial aid in the last academic year, with $144.5 million budgeted for financial aid in the coming year. U-M has $176.7 million budgeted for undergraduate aid in 2018, the year the GBG will go into effect. This is a 9.5 percent increase from last year, U-M Vice Provost for Enrollment Management Kedra Ishop said, which is actually a smaller increase than previous years, as U-M has seen double digit increases in its aid budget for a number of years before.
“The university has a longstanding commitment to meeting full need for as many students as possible,” Ishop said.
Because of this, the university’s goal when designing the GBG was simplifying the financial aid system. The chosen line was $65,000 because it’s the median income in the State of Michigan, Ishop said, thus streamlining the process for half of Michigan’s families. The asset limit was chosen to ensure low-mid income families would be receiving the benefits.
“Simplifying language around financial aid has a tremendous impact on students and families’ recognition that affordability would not be the reason why they may not be able to attend a particular institution,” Ishop said.
MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon, in a previous article, claimed the GBG was modeled after MSU’s existing full-ride program, the Spartan Advantage, which provides free tuition to in-state students whose family income is at or below the poverty line. Simon said U-M has a benefit of socioeconomic class that allows their program to provide more opportunities.
However, while U-M looked at many different financial aid systems when designing the GBG, MSU was not specifically considered, Ishop said.
To qualify for the Spartan Advantage plan, a student’s family income has to be at or below the poverty line. To qualify for the GBG, that income needs to be at or below $65,000.
However, this is not the only requirement. MSU students must not have any assets that would place them over Michigan’s poverty line — $24,600 for a family of four, according to Michigan.gov — with exceptions for primary residence and retirement accounts.
If a family’s income is under the poverty line, but they’ve managed to save up enough to put them over it, the student might be disqualified. However, Meyers said this is unlikely. She said MSU typically looks at historical poverty level when deciding eligibility.
“Generally, a little bit of savings is not going to make a difference for people,” Meyers said. “If they’re below the poverty line, they’re generally going to be eligible.”
U-M students’ assets must not total more than $50,000 to qualify for GBG. A similar exception for retirement accounts is made, but home equity is fair game.
However, the GBG’s parameters are not a ceiling above which no aid can be received. Eighty-nine percent of applicants in the income range of $95-$125,000 receive an average of 55 percent of their tuition costs in aid, Ishop said. About 60 percent received 25 percent in aid at the $150-$180,000 income range.
About two-thirds of MSU students receive some sort of financial aid and about one-quarter of undergraduate students receive Pell Grants, according to MSU’s website. During the 2015-16 academic year, 9,101 undergraduate students received Pell Grants.
Would MSU be able to implement a Go Green Guarantee? It’s difficult to say one way or another.
MSU spends less money on financial aid than U-M. Both universities have a median student income of over $100 thousand, but MSU’s median student income is about $40 thousand less than U-M’s. MSU has about 5,626 students more than U-M as of 2016 enrollment numbers.
“They modeled their program after our Spartan Advantage, they just have a little bit of benefit of socioeconomic class that we do not,” Simon said in a previous article.
While the former is not correct according to Ishop, it appears the latter might be true. U-M receives more tuition income from fewer students.
MSU almost certainly would have many more eligible students for a comparable program, as the Spartan Advantage already provides aid to two-thirds of the amount of students GBG is expected to help in its first year, while covering a significantly smaller financial demographic.
If MSU were to implement a similar program, the university would likely spend more money than U-M on more students using less university income.
A Go Green Guarantee, while not necessarily unfeasible, might be more difficult to implement than U-M’s Go Blue Guarantee from a financial standpoint. Without knowing exactly how many MSU students would qualify, it’s difficult to say for sure.
Norrlyn-Michael Allen is a senior double-majoring in human development and family studies and arts and humanities. An out-of-state student originally from Illinois, Allen said he’s benefitted from financial aid since his freshman year in the form of both subsidized loans and Pell Grants.
Though he was eventually able to qualify for in-state tuition, Allen said it was difficult getting less aid as an out-of-state students.
“Every week I was paying a bill for home,” Allen said. “Really hard to focus on school and class when you have real-life issues, but then school is supposed to be a priority to connect us to some greater income, you know, we’re struggling.”
Estimating his family income at $33,000 or below, Allen said he became an intercultural aid for two years and worked full-time for the university the majority of his time at MSU to get by.
“I tell people, even being an intercultural aid, (being) a student here is not the first thing that’s on your mind, unless you can really focus on your academics, and those are typically individuals who come from wealthy families. Families who are not able to afford a college and, for many of us we work full time, we have other stresses. We’re obligated to help family members, and trying to fund our own spots, our own tuitions.”
Allen said his hard work has allowed him to accrue just under $12,000 in debt, when some of his friends are out about $30,000 to $40,000.
Like Davis, Allen’s family income is too much to qualify for the Spartan Advantage. However, his initial out-of-state status would have also excluded him from the GBG.
Though he would not benefit himself, Allen said expanding the Spartan Advantage to include some out-of-state students would be a major help to those like him, and implementing a program similar to the GBG would help even more so.
“Even though I won’t be able to experience something like this, there is another out of state student who would benefit from this,” Allen said. "Even if there aren’t as many spots for out-of-state students… I think that’s something they should definitely consider. And stop raising tuition.”