U.P. as 51st state, more harm than good

U.P. as 51st state, more harm than good

Amber Essenmacher

It is strikingly obvious once you cross the Mackinac Bridge that the U.P. is vastly different than downstate Michigan. Trees replace cropland and Subarus replace Chevrolets. The changes are more than superficial though, extending into politics and economics as well. This has many people questioning the idea of the U.P. becoming its own state.

A toll already exists, similar to crossing state borders. The culture that exists here already varies from the Lower Peninsula. Many Michiganders own vacation homes and cottages here, and traveling “up north” is a means of getting away from home. As if the U.P. isn’t their home, too. So, why not just make it its own state?

While the idea sounds exciting, it could mean major downfalls in enrollment rates at local universities, including Northern. It seems that so many people I speak with are from Michigan, specifically downstate. 

After some digging around, I found an enrollment report from 2017 on NMU’s website. The results were almost as expected, with about 35% of all enrolled students traveling  from the Lower Peninsula. Furthermore, about 45% of the total Michigan enrollment comes from downstate students. What does this have to do with anything?

The answer is “a lot.” If the U.P. were to be its own state, 35% more students would have to pay out-of-state tuition. Northern’s affordability is one of its draws, so this would influence college decisions state-wide. Making the decision even more interesting for students is the fact that Michigan withdrew from the Midwestern Student Exchange Program (MSEP) in September 2019. Major doubts arise in regards to whether the U.P. would decide to be a part of this tuition reduction agreement (a petition signed by universities to ensure that they will not charge over 150% of normal tuition to out-of-state students), or if they will even be granted the opportunity to do so. Even if, this program tends to over-project and underperform, making students jump through many hoops just to receive the same education as others. 

Many students would decide against attending NMU and/or Michigan Technological University (whose enrollment rates are similar to ours), and thus two smaller universities are left struggling to attract previous enrollment rates. The makeup of both campuses and the U.P. as a whole will consequently change in a very negative way. 

It would be really easy to say that Northern doesn’t need the 2,500 (approximated) students from the Lower Peninsula. It simply isn’t true. As the population of the U.P. steadily declines, the students who come here from other states, as well as the Lower Peninsula, bring with them fresh perspectives and a love for this beautiful place. Without these people, the U.P. would not flourish as it currently does, especially in heavily-populated areas. Living here as a college student fosters love and adoration for this place. That is something I, even as a freshman, can wholeheartedly attest to. Some of these students will come back here to raise families, develop careers and build futures. Unfortunately, if the composition of universities here existed solely of students from surrounding counties, the chance for growth would be significantly smaller. 

Furthermore, an argument I hear often is of the under-representation of educational institutions existing in the small communities of the U.P. The reality is harsh. If the U.P. were to be declared its own state, for the above reasons and more, the population would decline, reducing student enrollment at both public schools and universities, thus decreasing funding in both areas. If we were our own state, underfunding would still exist and possibly increase. The culture that has been formulated here is one that must be shared in order to be sustained. 

It is instinctual and reasonable to want correct representation, no matter what the root is. Though it may seem incorrect, the U.P., our home, would not be the same, beloved place without its connection to something bigger. As a part of a larger entity, the chance of it still being relevant when our grandchildren exist is greatly improved. Other factors exist, but if there aren’t people here to see the enhancements, is there a point in considering anything else at all?

Amber Essenmacher is a freshman, English writing major.