Students hurt by higher tuition: State legislature to blame

Lee McClelland

Students’ tuition had a higher price-tag after NMU announced that they would be raising the cost of tuition by 3.5 percent, or $148, for the Fall 2012 semester.

While I don’t enjoy incurring more debt for an education during a lengthy recession, I do think it is important to address the factors that cause tuition to be raised every year.

Yes, I did say every year. If one were look at the minutes from NMU Board of Trustees’ meetings for the past six years, one would find that tuition has increased on average of 6.8 percent every year.

According to a proposal submitted by former NMU Board of Trustees Chair Dr. Douglas B. Roberts, increases are due in part to three major factors: (1) the cost of inflation, (2) state appropriations to the university and (3) growth.

The average rate of inflation over the past six years has been 2.83 percent.

When I looked at the rate of inflation for each individual year and matched that rate with the increase in tuition, I noticed that tuition was usually just a percent higher.

In some years, for example 2007, tuition has increased by as much as 9.25 percent.

It would seem as if increasing the cost of tuition would hinder students’ ability to attain an education at a reasonable price. It is easy to point at the Board of Trustees or the president of the university, but students should be upset with the state legislature.

The major factor that causes tuition rates to increase is the amount of appropriated funds from the state.

Michigan has been slowly decreasing the amount of appropriated funds for public universities over the past decade.

In 2006, the per-student appropriation was $5,425. In 2011, it was $4,468.

Tuition charges and state appropriations share an inverse relationship: when one goes up, the other goes down.

Unfortunately for college students in Michigan, state appropriations have been falling, and they have been shouldered with the burden.

According to a study issued by the Presidents Council State Universities of Michigan (2006), while state support has decreased and enrollment has increased over the years, the result has been per-student appropriations that have fallen far behind the rate of inflation.

Michigan universities have had to stretch their dollars farther than ever before.

Since state and federal governments are supposed to work together, it is somewhat bewildering that Michigan has cut funding for higher education while the federal government has been locked in a heated debate about student debt and loan interest rates.

By cutting funding for higher education in Michigan, the state has inadvertently caused public universities to raise their tuition so that they can continue serving their students with quality programs, professors and accommodations.

Driving up tuition means that more students will receive larger federal aid packages; the federal government will have to allot more money for student loan programs; and this puts a burden on an already tight budget that Congress has yet to settle.

It is disappointing that higher education has been reduced to a tagline in so many politicians’ campaigns.

It is hard to imagine getting a job without a bachelors degree these days. A college education has become commonplace in American society and receiving said education no longer seems like a choice, but a requirement.

By increasing the cost of an education, students are being weighed down by substantial debt, which for many is hard to conceptualize because students are often divorced from their federal loans. They fill out of the FAFSA and worry about the cost later.

These students will be upset with increases in their tuition, will target Northern and place the blame on them for the increase.

Though it is easy to vilify those close to home, it is not the NMU Board of Trustees who raised the cost of tuition. It is the state legislature with their neglect for higher education and stingy appropriations.

If students are angry, if they want to make a difference, they need to get out and vote in the general election.

Research the candidates, see where they stand on higher education and vote accordingly.

Students should call their representative, send him/her a letter and voice their opinion. Make your voice heard in local and state government.

The students are the ones who need to act. Their voice needs to be loud and clear. If pressure is not put on representatives and senators, they will continue to drain funds from universities and increase the cost of an education.