Editorial — NMU Tuition Advantage: What’s the catch?

At the beginning of March, Northern Michigan University unveiled NMU Tuition Advantage, a financial aid program that allows eligible students to attend the university with no tuition costs. 

Considered a “last dollar” scholarship, the assistance program is open to students graduating from Michigan high schools in 2023 who additionally qualify for the Michigan Achievement Scholarship (students who hold a high school diploma, certificate of completion or a high school equivalency certificate) and a Federal Pell Grant (a government subsidy to low-income students that does not need to be repaid). NMU’s Tuition Advantage would pay for the remainder of tuition after all other grants, scholarships and tuition-related funds are applied.

University President Brock Tessman stated that the NMU Tuition Advantage is a “strategic investment that completely removes tuition as a barrier between many students with financial need and the pursuit of their college dreams.”

In reviewing the new program, it seems to be incredibly beneficial to both prospective students and the current campus community. A successful and accessible public education system is imperative to our success as a society, and it is our university’s responsibility to ensure all who wish to be educated can be — no matter their financial situation. The way we see it, the more people who are able to attend college, the better. 

However, because we are so used to questioning administrative decisions that revolve around our education, we wonder why this assistance program is emerging now. What prevented it from coming sooner?

Tessman cited the establishment of the Michigan Achievement Scholarship this year in addition to increased funding for the Federal Pell Grant system for making the NMU Tuition Advantage possible. But the move seems much more calculated than just a recent increase in capital, considering the university’s monetary assets have continued to grow year after year. 

The new assistance program is very limited in its scope and open to only a small population of prospective students — low-income Michigan high school graduates. With overall enrollment numbers declining, and data indicating that the number of students hailing from the Upper Peninsula is declining with the Lower Peninsula trailing close behind, it makes sense why the university would deliberately target this group of people. 

It is no secret that in-state tuition is much cheaper than out-of-state tuition. The difference between the yearly full-time flat rate for the two using NMU’s current rates is a whopping $5,496. This means that only giving Michigan high school graduates assistance is the lowest possible cost for the university. Also, the assistance program is not open to students who attend NMU’s Global Campus. Why is that?

The NMU Tuition Advantage does not cover the costs that accompany on-campus housing, which is mandatory for underclassmen attending the university. So even if their tuition is covered, these low-income students are still going to be indebted due to on-campus housing, meal plans and all required classroom materials (i.e., overpriced textbooks, study guides and other materials).

While the assistance program is a great addition to NMU that will embolden young students and their educational aspirations, it is important to continue monitoring the costs for all other students that have been or will soon occupy our campus. 

Eliminating the tuition for some students is an obvious loss of revenue for the university, and considering the capitalist economy we continue to operate in, the money will have to be made elsewhere for the university to be deemed successful. Will out-of-state tuition significantly increase? Will housing become more expensive? What about meal plans and university fees?

Unfortunately, we do not have the answers to these questions, and perhaps we are coming off a bit cynical. But can we be to blame for our overwhelming skepticism?

Editor’s Note: The North Wind is committed to offering a free and open public forum of ideas, publishing a wide range of viewpoints to accurately represent the NMU student body. This is an editorial, written by the North Wind Editorial Board in its entirety. It reflects the majority views of the individuals who make up the editorial staff of the North Wind. It is the policy of the Editorial Board not to endorse candidates for any political office, in order to avoid aligning this public forum with particular political organizations.