EAST LANSING Mich.
Michigan State University senior Katie Wright worries college tuition is rising so fast that some working-class families, including her own, may soon find higher education unaffordable.
Michigan is one of a handful of states where tuition at some public universities will increase by nearly 10 percent or more headed into the fall semester. Four-year public schools in Illinois, Colorado and Oklahoma also plan tuition increases that could at least triple the general inflation rate.
The typical bill for a full-time in-state undergraduate at Michigan State will climb by roughly $800 this academic year under the current plan, a 9.6 percent increase putting the annual tuition and fee bill past $9,500 in some cases. That doesn’t include room and board.
“I’ve been worried about paying for this year constantly, just figuring out how it’s going to work out,” said Wright, a zoology major who hopes to become a veterinarian. “For people who don’t necessarily have a lot of money … I think they’re going to be pushing those people out.”
This week, the U.S. House passed legislation to lower interest rates on student loans and increase Pell grant aid to poor people who want to go to college. Several state universities, while adopting higher tuition rates, also are expanding financial aid programs to try and keep access open for a diverse student body.
Nationwide, college tuition typically increases much faster than general inflation. While tuition escalation has slowed somewhat in recent years, this summer’s round of increases indicate there are pockets in the United States where the trend toward smaller hikes won’t hold.
The states hardest hit often have struggling economies or other government budget problems that have limited the amount of general state taxpayer aid going to public universities.
In Michigan, which has the nation’s highest unemployment rate and a projected deficit for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1 of at least $1.6 billion, most public universities got less money from the state last fiscal year than in 2001-02. Some of the payments promised to schools this fiscal year will be delayed.
At the other end of the spectrum, public universities in Ohio plan to freeze rates in some cases after years of relatively high tuition increases.
The average tuition and fee bill nationwide at a four-year, public university reached $5,836 last academic year, up 42 percent from 2002-03 levels, according to data weighted by enrollment from The College Board. In Michigan, average tuition and fees were about $7,260 last year, up roughly 35 to 38 percent since 2002-03, according to unweighted data provided by the Presidents Council, a group representing Michigan public universities.
In the University of Illinois system, tuition is rising an average of 11.6 percent at its three campuses. Two semesters of tuition and fees at the main Urbana-Champaign campus will cost more than $11,000 for some students. Illinois’ government aid to universities has been flat the past few years after taking a cut in the 2003-04 fiscal year.
The University of Colorado at Boulder will raise annual tuition by $664 to $5,218. It’s a 14 percent tuition increase, reduced to about 9.6 percent when an enhanced financial aid package is included in the calculation. Low state funding levels are blamed for the increase.
Oakland University in southeast Michigan plans to raise tuition by 13.9 percent, its largest increase since the economic doldrums of the early 1980s slashed Michigan’s state university aid. This fall’s increase means the annual bill for an undergraduate in-state resident taking 15 credits per semester would rise $971 to $7,927.
“More students are having to work at two or three jobs,” said Jameelah Muhammad, vice president of Oakland’s student congress. “They’re taking out loans and graduating with more debt. It’s intense. Am I going to eat or pay my tuition bills? It’s getting like that for some students.”
– Associated Press
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