High cost of higher education threatens Michigan’s future

Guest Editorials
A college degree is arguably worth more than ever in this still-recovering economy. In Michigan, so is its price.

The state’s public colleges and universities are setting tuition for the fall, and almost all are raising those costs by nearly 7 percent. That figure is just enough to soak students (and parents) to the maximum while avoiding the penalty of added cuts in state aid.

The effect has been punishing. Michigan State University students will pay more than $20,000 a year for tuition, fees and room and board for the first time as of this fall. Tuition at the University of Michigan-Flint climbed by an eye-popping 141 percent since 2000, The Flint Journal pointed out.

Gov. Rick Snyder and state lawmakers need to take notice and take action for the good of Michigan’s economy and residents.

It’s less expensive to attend an in-state school than going out of state or to most private colleges, but some high school graduates are going to avoid more college altogether. Or they are going to take out student loans that will sap their spending power when they are adults.

The governor has shown a deft touch and a willingness to take on tough issues in his first six months on the job. He pushed the Legislature to approve a budget that taxed seniors and simplified business taxes. Last week he offered a plan to improve Detroit’s abysmal public school system.

The price of Michigan’s colleges must be a priority, too. Snyder and lawmakers have to use every available tool to tamp down tuition.

That will not be simple. Three major schools — University of Michigan, Michigan State and Wayne State — answer to independent, voter-chosen boards whose members might still be in office after Snyder is gone.

At the same time, college leaders either chafe at recently approved cuts in state aid or insist they have reduced spending prudently. Or both.

Clearly, they will have to do more. At JCC, for example, faculty pay 7.3 percent of family health-insurance plans that cost nearly $21,000 a year. The governor has pushed public schools to make employees pay 20 percent. Why shouldn’t colleges face the same expectation?

That’s just one example. The state’s elected officials could really earn their pay by looking at redundancies in the public university system or by pushing colleges to share more services.

Higher education is rightly touted as the doorway to a good career, yet the price has grown so fast that some students can no longer get through. It will be up to the state to make sure public universities and colleges have the money they need, but to also demand they trim the fat.

Students, meanwhile, can no longer afford the price of doing nothing.