Should U of M Prioritize In-State Students?

December 5, 2015

Yes. In-staters should be a priority.

by Katherine Smith

State universities exist to give students an affordable way to continue their education (though ‘affordable’ may be a generous term for how much it costs to be even an in-state student at the University of Michigan). In exchange for taxpayer support, in-state students get a better rate. These state funds are the vital difference between public and private universities. This support has been steadily declining (and tuition rising as a result) but it is still a substantial amount. State funding amounts to about 16% of the University of Michigan’s general fund, which pays for things like teaching, services, and administrative support. As of last year more than half of all incoming freshmen were enrolling as non-residents. With residents of Michigan paying into the University, it can feel like a betrayal when their students are deferred in preference for out-of-state ones. I experienced this sentiment firsthand. In my senior year of high school, I told a neighbor that I had gotten admitted to the University of Michigan and he replied, “How? You live here.” For him, the growing number of non-residents meant that UM had turned its back on the people in its own backyard. It meant that the University had shirked its responsibilities as a public institution, that the administration was not fulfilling its side of the bargain.

        I understand that there are other sides to this that we, as students, are often unaware of. A freshman enrolling as an out-of-state student will pay nearly $30,000 more than an in-state freshman this year. This difference is extreme and that money can make up gaps in the budget that are left by continually shrinking public support. This solves one problem but introduces another. Filling budget gaps by admitting more out-of-state students with higher tuition costs is contrary to the University’s purpose. If most students are paying private school rates, why be a public school at all? I think the better solution might be to increase support for public universities in Michigan. This facet of the issue is something that the University cannot control. The administration cannot dictate that the state must prioritize public education. Perhaps shrinking public support means that the University has a shrinking responsibility to the state and its students. However, simply changing the student composition to fit the budget seems like a betrayal of the institution’s entire purpose.

Aside from the University’s responsibility to the state, this shift in student composition has a real effect on the campus climate. Students paying the higher rate tend to come from families more equipped to pay it. Because of this, our campus has become home to students from a very diverse geographical range but from a fairly limited socioeconomic one. This colors the campus discourse, from the classroom to casual conversation, to the campus publications. It is not a bad thing to be economically advantaged, and it is actually a very good thing that so many people are willing to pay the exorbitant tuition to come here. It means that our school is desirable and that our degrees will be worth something. However, it also means that we all miss out on a lot of perspectives we could really benefit from.

Education is increasingly important and unattainable. Providing an affordable education for young people does a world of good. Aside from the innumerable benefits of the college experience that are more difficult to quantify, a college graduate makes one million dollars more in their lifetime, on average, than someone who did not attend college. None of that matters, however, if a college degree is made impossible by high tuition costs or by a student’s inability to get into a more affordable state school. A high school student that is unable to get into the University of Michigan is likely to gain admittance to another state school, but there simply is no better education in the state than U of M, and admitting more and more non-residents does edge out Michiganders who may be on the brink of admittance. Again, it comes down to whether or not the University has a responsibility to the state of Michigan, and whether or not that responsibility is fulfilled at a 49 percent in-state student composition.

The University of Michigan is one of the best public universities in the United States, but in recent years there has been a growing concern about the increase in the number of out-of-state students being admitted. Many worry that in-state students are not being prioritized. In my opinion, in-state students are not only being prioritized but are also receiving more benefits than out-of-state students.

        Not only do in-state students pay less tuition, but they also receive more financial aid. As an out-of-state student, the biggest concern I had when I was accepted to U-M was the tuition and costs, which for fall of 2015 is $57,432 for out-of-state students in their freshman and sophomore year. Tuition is $27,812 for in-state students. Out-of-state students pay a little more than double what Michigan residents do. 70 percent of in-state students receive financial aid versus the 50 percent of out-of-state students that do. From a financial perspective, it appears that U-M is prioritizing Michigan residents over out-of-state students. For the 2016 year, a $1.83 billion budget was approved, which will increase undergraduate financial aid by 8 percent. However, to do this, tuition for undergraduate in-state students will increase by 2.7 percent and out-of-state undergraduate tuition will increase by 3.7 percent. The Michigan Legislature established a 3.2 percent cap to protect in-state students from having a large increase in tuition, but there is no cap for out-of-state students whose tuition has continued to rise over the years.

        In 2014, 49.3 percent of students were from Michigan and 36.9 percent were from out-of-state, which shows a stark decrease in the gap between in-state and out-of-state students. In 2005, 56.5 percent of students were Michigan residents and only 33 percent of students were from out-of-state. However, there is a reason for this. State support this year for U-M is $26 million less than it was 10 years ago. To make up for this gap in funding, it makes sense that the university would look to out-of-state students’ tuition, which would factor into why there has been an increase in admittance for non-Michigan residents. However, this is not prioritizing out-of-state students as U-M is actually receiving more out-of-state applicants than in-state ones.

        From the freshman class of 2015, U-M received more than 50,000 applications and accepted a little less than one-third of them. The number of students that have been applying to U-M has been increasing, and more of these applications are coming from out-of-state students. In 2014, out of the 49,731 applications that were received for the freshman class, only 10,000 were from Michigan residents with the rest being from other states and countries. Proportionally, the increase in out-of-state students makes sense, especially combined with U-M’s financial incentives.

        Some concerns have risen suggesting that allowing more out-of-state students would decrease the diversity of the school; in particular, a majority of students with high levels of income that can afford to pay the full tuition would be accepted. I have out-of-state friends who receive financial aid and work-study and friends from Michigan who don’t receive any financial aid. The opposite is also true. I personally have not noticed an income gap between non-Michigan residents and Michigan residents.

        However, it is important to emphasize to those who would argue that a gap does exist, that 50 percent of out-of-state students still receive financial aid. Part of what makes U-M such a diverse and amazing school is that we have students from all 50 states and 114 countries. By increasing the number of students from out of state, U-M is also diversifying the student body with students from all types of backgrounds and experiences.  

        Although in-state students no longer make up half of the student body, they still receive benefits such as paying less tuition and receiving more financial aid. The state government protects in-state students by limiting how much U-M can increase their tuition, a safety net that non-Michigan residents lack. As U-M receives more applicants from other states and receives less funding from the state of Michigan, it can be expected that out-of-state tuition will continue to rise, and more non-Michigan residents will be admitted. This is not, however, prioritizing out-of-state students, but instead prioritizing the diversity and quality of education at U-M.