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#Fixtheflatrate: Black Student Alliance calls for accessible tuition model

September 19, 2019
<p>Black Student Alliance MSU president Sharron Reed-Davis and others pose following her speech protesting the newly implemented block tuition at MSU during Spartan Remix behind Wells Hall on Sept. 5, 2019. Many students wore black to the event in support of the protest. </p>

Black Student Alliance MSU president Sharron Reed-Davis and others pose following her speech protesting the newly implemented block tuition at MSU during Spartan Remix behind Wells Hall on Sept. 5, 2019. Many students wore black to the event in support of the protest.

For physics junior Ishmael Fasina, Michigan State’s newly-implemented tuition structure feels like added pressure. 

“I feel like I have to take more credits in order to save money,” Fasina said. “That’s kind of a difficult choice for us to make. We have to exchange sacrificing our grades to save money.”  

On June 22, 2018, the MSU Board of Trustees unanimously voted to approve the shift to flat rate tuition and in that process, froze tuition rates for the upcoming academic year. 

MSU is the second-to-last school in the Big Ten to adopt this tuition model.

“We knew that the shift would be painful in some cases for students, because not all students are logistically in a position to be able to take advantage of the 15 or more credits,” said Mark Largent, interim associate provost for undergraduate education and interim dean of undergraduate studies.

This semester is one of Fasina’s busiest and the most challenging semester he’s ever had. 

“I am taking three four-credit classes and one three-credit class, and I just put the extra two credits because I wanted to use the flat rate tuition to my advantage,” he said. “I usually don’t take anything more than 12 or 13.” 

The Black Student Alliance of MSU — an organization formed to be a central advocacy group for African American students — convened at The Rock on Farm Lane Tuesday, Aug. 28 to bring awareness to the implementation of MSU’s “flat rate tuition” model and how it is negatively affecting the undergraduate student body. 

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Under the block tuition model, which was put into effect this fall, MSU undergraduate students taking 12 to 18 credits will be charged a flat rate for tuition. This means students taking between 12 to 18 credits are charged the  same rate — the rate of 15 credits. 

On the first day of classes, the Black Student Alliance and allies wore the color black to “stand in solidarity with those impacted by Block Tuition.”

“The way that they advertised it was that 12 to 18 credits were the same price, but what they did not advertise was that it was going to be charged at a rate of 15 credits,” said Jay Gooden, the Council of Racial and Ethnic Students and Council of Progressive Students liaison for the Black Student Alliance.

Though the new model financially benefits those taking 15 to 18 credits, students taking 12 to 14 credits saw larger tuition bills than usual. 

“A lot of students — especially black students — take 12 credits because that’s what they can afford or that’s just the rate they can go at, and it seems like the university is trying to race people to graduate in four years when it shouldn’t be a race,” Gooden said. “You should be able to take your time with your education.”

On June 22, 2017, the university announced its “Go Green, Go 15” campaign, which urged student to take an average of 15 credits per semester. The campaign was aimed at increasing the university’s graduation rate. 

“When we launched that movement, former President (Lou Anna K.) Simon was in office, and she had no interest in flat rate tuition — the board had already approved it several years earlier, but it wasn’t interesting to her,” Largent said. “We decided that we would start advising students to take a larger number of credits, and they did.”

Largent also said in 2016, only 28% of the freshman student body was taking 15 or more credits. In 2017, it was 42%. In 2018, it was 50%, and 60% of this year’s freshmen are taking 15 or more credits.

“When (former) Gov. (John) Engler was the acting president, he decided that he liked the idea of flat rate tuition,” Largent said. “He informed us that we were going to flat rate tuition. ... A year ago, we convened three different committees, and those committees spent much of fall semester focused really intently on how we would implement flat rate tuition.”

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The graduation rate of students who identify as African American was at 59% within the 2016 cohort and has seen a 6% increase to 65% for the 2017 cohort. However, that still falls behind by 14% for all students in terms of graduation rates, according to a report released at the end of last semester.

“Historically, the black retention rates have been one of the lowest of any demographic, and one of the top reasons it’s so low is because of financial and academic reasons,” mathematics senior Miracle Chatman said. “This policy is going to further hurt and widen the gap between those black students.”

On Sept. 5, MSU’s Neighborhood Student Success Collaborative announced it would offer tuition clinics. At these clinics, academic and financial aid staff are available to support students with questions or concerns related to the flat rate tuition model.

"If we want students to be more successful as students and to be able to afford college more readily, they have got to get in and see those advisers and we are pushing them to do that,” Largent said.

“They need to make it a priority that black students graduate and succeed. Of course they’re not going to flaunt those retention rates because that’s going to show them in a negative light, but at least acknowledge those retention rates. Most people on this campus don’t know that black students used to graduate at a 58% rate," Chatman said.

MSU will continue to implement the flat rate tuition model for future semesters. 

The Black Student Alliance is currently taking and showcasing submissions on how MSU’s flat rate tuition has affected students, and the group said they plan on continuing this.

“I am frankly very happy to see it,” Largent said. “I am extraordinarily happy that these students are showing a personal interest in something as critically important as the tuition structure of the university ... and making public the impact of the decisions that are made at the highest level on them as individuals.”

Students protesting flat rate tuition do not want to revert back to the previous model, but to modify it. 

“We’re just asking for the administration to hear us out and hear our voice (calling) to fix the flat rate,” Gooden said. “We’re not saying get rid of it, but make it at a rate of 12 credits so that way we can afford to do it. That way, it’s an easier pace for students.” 

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