Tuesday, May 30, 2023

More pressure on universities for free tuition programs, MSU falls behind some other public universities

March 29, 2021
The Breslin Center on July 17, 2020.
The Breslin Center on July 17, 2020. —
Photo by Annie Barker | The State News

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced in January free tuition provided to pandemic frontline workers and then extended the program into February for all community college students ages 25 and up in Michigan. 

This has put pressure on universities like Ferris State University (FSU), Central Michigan University (CMU) and Saginaw Valley State University (SVSU) to provide free tuition programs to certain students in recent weeks. However, unlike these other universities, Michigan State University has yet to make headway in providing more free-tuition programs.

Other universities like the University of Michigan have been implementing free tuition for certain students for years. The University of Michigan has a Go Blue Guarantee in which students whose families make an income of less than $65,000 a year are provided free tuition. 

CMU and SVSU implemented similar programs that will go into effect next year, but for families that make less than $50,000 a year. 

MSU does not have a similar full-tuition coverage program for students like these universities, although their general financial aid has increased by 3,000% since the 1970s. Instead, the administration’s two largest programs are with Detroit Promise and Spartan Advantage, according to MSU Deputy Spokesperson Dan Olsen.

There are currently 238 students receiving the Detroit Promise benefits at MSU. It allows students who live in Detroit, graduated from a Detroit high school with a 3.0 GPA, an ACT score of at least 21 or an SAT score of at least 1060 to attend college in Michigan for up to four years with free tuition. 

Spartan Advantage provides more aid to students, of which 2,170 are currently receiving. Students whose families are below the poverty line and apply for financial aid receive full coverage of tuition, room and board, as well as books and supplies.

Though there are nearly 50,000 undergraduate students that attend MSU meaning those with full tuition coverage make-up only 4.6% of the undergraduate population. 

Programs like this are through Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which provides aid from the state and federal government.

There may be more opportunities for financial support for education due to the pandemic. The new stimulus put forward by the Biden administration will require more aid to be given to students through programs in FAFSA. Students will also not have to report any stimulus checks they receive to FAFSA, as it is not taxable income, according to the new relief bill.

It is up to universities to decide who receives extra emergency financial aid, but it does not guarantee full coverage.

Relief from the Biden Administration does not include major loan forgiveness though, for those who do not receive grants or scholarships.

But across the nation, and here at MSU, tuition continues to rise.

The price of tuition across the nation has steadily increased over the past 40 years.

Even 20 years ago, a student’s tuition on average cost $3,500 per year in the United States, according to reports from national universities.

MSU is no exception to these increases. Since MSU began recording in-state tuition prices in 1979, the cost of in-state tuition per credit hour has increased by 1,209%. This accounts for the fact that pre-1992, Michigan State had a course model of three terms and tuition rates were per credit hour per term. If there had been no change in 1992 to a two semester course model, the rise in tuition would be nearly 1,900%.

It cost a student at MSU $24.50 per college credit in 1979. Today they pay $482 per in-state tuition credit. 

And that $482 adds up quickly. On average students are required to take 12 credit hours in order to be considered a full-time student. So at MSU, a full-time schedule for an in-state student in 2021 costs $7,230 in tuition per semester. This does not include room and board, books or other fees that students are required to pay. 

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MSU switched to the flat-rate system in 2019, so any student who takes between 12 and 18 credits must pay $7,230 for their cumulative credits. Classes that add up to less than 12 are charged by the individual credit. 

Olsen said the flat-rate system was put in place in an effort for students to spend less money throughout their college career at MSU and graduate in four years. Olsen noted that since the flat-rate tuition system came into place, undergraduate rates have not increased. But over the past decade, the price per credit hour has increased by more than $100.

Non-Michigan students and international students are held to an even higher standard rate. The total tuition rate for two semesters at MSU for a non-Michigan student is $39,830. And for an international student it is $41,330. 

According to the MSU administration, it is because out-of-state students and international students are not subsidized by the state of Michigan with taxes. Their higher cost reflects what it takes to teach and operate the university. 

“It’s the actual cost to provide that education,” Olsen said. 


Even for in-state students though, MSU’s rates are higher than the national average in every category of tuition costs.

In 2021, the national average for yearly in-state tuition is around $11,000 and nearly $29,000 for out-of-state, according to national university tuition records. This means that MSU charges around $3,000 more on average per in-state student and up to $12,000 more per out-of-state student. 

Despite these record-high tuition rates, MSU places only No. 31 in rankings for the most expensive colleges and universities in Michigan -- right below No. 30 University of Michigan. 

The ranks were based on in-state tuition, with No. 1 being Kalamazoo College. Their in-state tuition is $50,046 per year and they are a private university. Other universities included in the top 10 are Albion College, Alma College and Calvin College. 

MSU senior Rian Jackson said that she was upset MSU wasn’t taking the steps to become a leader in Michigan for free-tuition initiatives. 

“Students should always have a free university option,” she said.


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