April 24, 2016

Falling state aid, not rising university costs, is indeed the reason for higher tuitions.

I read yet another conservative think tank article this week (Michigan based) trying to make it look like Michigan's public universities are arbitrarily increasing student's tuition rates for no reason and that the tuition increases have nothing to do with less state support. Not only is the article wrong in what its title asserts, it has several flaws. This article is found in The Bridge, dated April 22, 2016 and titled:

Rising university costs, not falling state aid, is the real reason for lack of affordability

What I find amazing, is that the authors displayed a graph that cleary shows a DECREASING state appropriations cost and try to say that this has no effect on why Universities have had to increase tuition. The authors also point out that University revenue has increased modestly since 2006 when adjusted for inflation, like that is a bad thing. Of course revenue is up in 2006, we have more students in 2016 than ten years ago! For example, my employer (Oakland University) has almost doubled the number of students it had since I joined the Faculty in 2001. We have also increased the amount of external funds we have won from research funding and education grant competitions. I have brought a couple million $$ of external funding into OU just myself as a vision scientist. Many of my colleagues hired around the same time have done the same. We also have several new buildings on campus full of more students in Nursing, Health Sciences, Engineering and Computer Science. Most built since 2006. Of course University total revenue is up since 2006.

The fatal flaw in the Bridge article is that nothin is analyzed in terms of education cost per student. Another flaw is that the analysis only looks back to 2006 and leaves out preceding years where most of the State's divestment in the State's share of a student's education had already transpired.  

Read the Bridge article and then read this information below if you want to know how public universities set a student's tuition (student's share of education cost).

First - Not all state appropriations are available to apply to student education-costs. When my University gets 40-million to construct 50% of a new engineering or health science center, we do not get to spend that on a student's yearly operational education cost.

Second- You need to take the time line way back to see how the State's share has changed. Like back to 1980?

Third - Since 1980 the national accumulated inflation rate is just over 185%. The cost of educating a student at many public universities has increased just a bit over that rate, because some costs like computing technology and research compliance management are additional since 1980. However, the education cost in 1980 of about $4500 per student has increased with the accumulated US inflation rate of just over 185%. That would place student education costs to almost $14,000. (There are many calculator websites you can use to check inflation effects such as :  www.usinflationcalculator.com) My own $1,200 per year tuition in 1980 would now be $3,400 per year based on this rate of inflation. SO, why are my own kid's tuitions well over $10,000 per year now? (They both attend public university in Michigan.) Simple, because the percentage of their education-cost provided by the State has decreased dramatically since 1980.

Forth- Many State's have dramatically decreased their contribution to the percentage of a student's education cost. In 1980 my share of my education-cost (TUITION) was $1,200, which represented about 25% of my education-cost and many States provided the other 75%. This year, at many public universities, the State contribution to a student's education cost is less than 20%. At the university where I work, we are getting a only %16 of the student's education-cost in 2016.

Fifth- I am a university professor. Are professor salaries too high? No. Salaries are all public data and they show that the average full-time professor at Michigan's public universities makes between $60- to $80-thousand dollars per year, which is accounted for by the US inflation rate since 1980 salaries. I drive a Toyota to work every day, not a BMW. I clearly did not become a professor and medical researcher to get rich quick. Nor did most of my colleagues.

Sixth - Michigan is not alone in its divestment in our Kid's college education costs. Many States  have divested their percentage contribution to our student's education-costs since 1980. What is sad, in my opinion, is that these legislative decisions have been made by people around my age, who were also able to make their next year's tuition simply by working two months in the Summer preceding the next school year. We then had the joy of graduating debt-free from our first 4-year degrees, especially if we went to school near the Family home.

Is it smart for us as a State, as a community, to be divesting and not investing in our own Kid's education and training? I do not think so. Just my opinion, but I think many Michigan Parents and GrandParents have the same opinion.