A Big Ten school is offering free tuition and it’s not the U of M

The University of Michigan has announced its offering free tuition to current or future in-state students from families making $65,000 a year or less (the state’s median income). That’s about a $60,000 gift over four years.

In this year’s freshman class, 20 percent of the students come from families making less than $75,000.

Starting in January, the university will cover any gap between traditional financial aid and the cost of tuition at its Ann Arbor campus. Officials say it’ll cost the university $12 to $15 million, the Detroit Free Press says.

Only one regent voted against the plan.

“There’s still going to be many families, especially middle-class families, priced out of the University of Michigan,” Andrea Fischer Newman said.

No sense trying to solve any of a problem, if you can’t solve all of the problem?

When it comes to free college, Michigan gets it. In Kalamazoo, a benefactor gives free college to students graduating from the city’s public schools. Detroit Promise provides free two-year community college tuition to city students, and free four-year tuition to students with a 3.0 grade point average or higher.

It’s not a first for universities; Princeton, Harvard, Duke, for example, all provide free tuition for low-income students. But those are private schools.

And Minnesota is trying free tuition for students interested in pursuing in-demand careers. The Legislature rejected the idea of free community college tuition for everyone..

Michigan’s plan, on the other hand, isn’t restricting career choices

The news, coincidentally, comes the same day researchers at Duke released a study showing the impact of factory closings — Michigan has been particularly hard hit — on educational opportunity.

The researchers figured they’d find that in places hard hit by job losses, fewer young people would choose to go to college.

They found that a 7 percent loss of jobs in an area results in a 20 percent drop in college enrollment.

“Our thinking is a lot of it stems from the uncertainty generated by seeing these job losses in your community — youth and adults worrying, ‘Is this going to happen to our family, [and] if it did, how would we get by,’” Duke professor Anna Gassman-Pines tells the Durham Herald Sun. “It’s stressful to have that worry about what the future might hold, and it is, we believe, one of the key mechanisms.”

Whether offering free tuition will entice more low-income students to Michigan is unknown. The Duke study suggested the drop in college enrollment after a family’s job loss is not entirely about the loss of income.

But, if education really is the way to lift people out of poverty, is there a good reason not to try it?

Apparently there is.

The Minnesota College Affordability Act, unveiled in January, would have provided free tuition to the University of Minnesota and MnSCU institutions for students in families making less than $125,000 a year.

It was sent to a Senate committee where it never got a hearing went nowhere, according to the Legislature’s bill tracker. A companion bill met the same fate in the Minnesota House.

[Update 6/19] – Statement from Matt Kramer, U of M, VP university relations:

We read with interest last week’s article about the University of Michigan’s belated entry into the world of improving access to low and middle income students from their state. But additional reporting would have shown that the University of Minnesota has, since 2007, provided similar levels of access for Minnesota students. We do so through the U’s Promise Scholarship, which serves Minnesota students from families incomes up to $120,000.

Our commitment to ensuring the University is affordable for MN families spans more than decade, and this year alone the University of Minnesota served 13,900 students with the Promise Scholarship program. In fact, this program has provided support in excess of tuition for tens of thousands of U students. Remarkably, the University of Minnesota provides the lowest net price among four-year colleges in the state of Minnesota for families making less than $48,000.

Your readers deserve to know that the University of Minnesota cares about its students, too. In fact, the University has long had a strong commitment to access for Minnesotans.

Here’s the details on the Promise Scholarship , which provides

* Eligible new freshmen will receive a guaranteed need-based scholarship, ranging from approximately $300 to $4,000 each year, for four years.

* Eligible new transfer students will receive a guaranteed, need-based scholarship, ranging from approximately $300 to $2,000 each year, for two years..

  • Dave S.

    I like the idea. Would it have met the same fate in the MN legislature with a lower income cutoff? $125K seems rather high. I’d say it’s worth reintroducing, this time using the median family income, perhaps.

    • Minnesota’s median income is about $75,400. If MN were to use the Go Blue model, that’s where the cutoff would be.

  • dukepowell

    Despite this posting’s claim, the bill did receive a House hearing on Feb 7, 2017.

    It is also noteworthy that the State Universities are understandingly eager to push for this legislation just as long as someone else is paying for it. The tuition payments would come out of the General Fund. I couldn’t find a fiscal note, but the cost would be very large.

    Additionally, this would undoubtedly result in many Minnesota students of high academic achievement being turned down for admission to their chosen institution.

  • Knute

    Sounds like a good suggestion for Bezos to fund. Teach people to design/build/maintain the robots that are eliminating traditional positions.


  • Mike

    I congratulate Michigan for trying to do something about the ridiculous cost of education. But it sounds like if you make one cent more than $65,000, then full costs apply. It doesn’t seem wise to have such a sharp, all-or-nothing cutoff. It will invite some amount of gamesmanship and fraud.

    I think it would have been better to create stairsteps – free for those under a certain income, 20% charge for the next level, 40% charge for the level above that, up to full tuition for the rich.

    • Higher education is already economically segregated, especially in Michigan where 60% of the students come from the top 20% of household income. It’s actually one of the most economically segregated public institutions.

      • Mike

        I maintain that having one student whose family makes $65,000 get free tuition, and another whose family makes $66,000 be responsible for paying for (or financing) full tuition doesn’t make a lot of sense. A graduated system seems the way to go here.

        • Maybe, but that would be more expensive than the plan that was rolled out. I don’t know what the budget situation is over there.

          You have to start somewhere.

    • jon

      I’m guessing that $65k has some significance… Thinking maybe that “traditional financial aid” cuts off there? (it’s been awhile since I’ve cared about financial aid packages, but I know my wife didn’t qualify due to our income when she went back to get her masters).

      But if they cover the gap between fin. aid, and tuition then where fin. aid cuts out is an important factor, and as I recall that too is a pretty sharp cut off…

      • RBHolb

        $65K is the median family income in the state. I suspect there may still be financial aid available for those who are above that line.

    • KTFoley

      Is it not the case that there are still other financial aid avenues available to people above the cut-off? Michigan may still charge full tuition but aren’t Pell Grants, student loans, partial scholarships, or work-study are still available to those who qualify … as they are at other universities?

  • Jack Ungerleider

    The history of free college tuition at public institutions of higher learning is a long one with many ebbs and swells. One need only look at the history of free tuition at what is now known as the City University of New York to see that this debate has gone on for a long time.

  • dukepowell

    I object to the author’s edits from the original posting early this morning. I’m done with this conversation.

    I also will remember to “screen shot” this website in the future. And I will be watching.

    • And yet you gave no actual data as to why you object or proof that the “edits” are incorrect in some way.

      Please, enlighten us.

    • I used the “strikethrough” to indicate the copy was changed, Duke. I also added a link for the source of the information. That’s it and that’s standard blogging convention.

      It would be easy for you to provide information that counters the information being provided by the Minnesota Legislature’s database if you believe it to be wrong, but you refused to do it. So I’m assuming your declaration that the bill got a hearing actually referenced ANOTHER bill, not the one that was mentioned.

      Wouldn’t it be easier and more adult to just provide the information you say you have, rather than engage in some sort of theatrical nonsense and innuendo that seems designed to obscure your lack of source citation?

      If you made a mistake, just say it. If you think I made a mistake, just provide the correct information and a source.

      This isn’t hard.

      I also keep a copy of all versions of a post. You free to ask for it anytime and I’ll be happy to provide it.

      • Without any proof to the contrary, I have no choice but to assume that what Duke thought was the Minnesota College Affordability Act was not actually the Minnesota College Affordability Act.

    • Al

      WE’RE WATCHING YOU, BOB. You trickster, with your “news” and your “facts” and your “accuracy.” I mean, really.

  • Dan

    “A Big Ten school is offering free tuition and it’s not the U of M”

    Well… it IS a U of M, just not ours.


    • I think Michiganders refer to it as “UM” . But I’m not a Michigander so I don’t know for sure.

      I wonder if they ever just refer to it as “the U” like we do?

      • Rachel Olmstead Brougham

        Hi Bob, as someone who was born and raised in Michigan (and lived there for the first 37 years of my life before moving to Minneapolis) we called it “U of M.” It’s been weird for me to hear “The U” or “The U of M” since moving here.

      • shaun

        I have degrees from both schools, and I refer to each school as the U of M. I think “the U” is more common in the TCs, though.

  • Al

    I could learn to cheer for the Wolverines. *packs bags*

  • Rachel Olmstead Brougham

    My husband and I moved to Minneapolis two years ago, after living the first 37 years of our lives in Michigan. While we (and our now 8-year-old son) moved for a variety of reasons (primarily our jobs), one thing that made the move to Minnesota easier was the public education system. For us personally, Minnesota seems to take more pride in funding public schools than Michigan. We’re extremely happy here when it comes to our son’s education (MPS).

    I applaud Michigan for taking initiative to making college more affordable, except that’s not the whole story. For those of us parents with kids in the public K-12 system in Michigan, we’ve seen education gutted during Gov. Snyder’s tenure. Teachers are being cut, classrooms have too many students, funds and programs are being cut.

    As a journalist who covered education in Michigan for several years, I realize this isn’t a Michigan-only phenomenon, but any Michigan parent will tell you their child has been impacted by lack of funds for public education. I don’t want to turn this into any kind of political debate, but Michiganders have seen what happens when we treat schools and government as a business — it doesn’t help students.

    The Kalamazoo Promise is a great program. I grew up just outside Kalamazoo and have had many friends purposely move into the Kalamazoo school district to be a part of this. Kalamazoo has grown because of the program and the city’s schools have improved. With that said, it’s also hurt schools in the neighboring districts due to open enrollment and loss in numbers. It’s a win-lose scenario.

    So while Michigan in some ways can help college-bound kids, the K-12 system is falling behind. When I graduated high school in 1996, Michigan was toward the top of the nation when it came to public K-12 education. That’s no longer the case.