Michigan State University raised tuition for the 8th year in a row this summer. To combat the rising cost of tuition, the university unveiled a new program for insuring lower tuition costs: the Go Green Go 15 program or Go15. Essentially, students are able to lock in the 2016-2017 tuition cost as long as they maintain a course load of 15 or more credits. MSU students don’t pay a flat rate for tuition, or even a flat rate per class. We pay per credit hour, which makes the tuition freeze impactful only if you can manage to take 15 credits.
To dive into the numbers, the average in-state lower division student in 2017 pays $482 dollars per credit, and the average upper division student pays $543 dollars per credit hour. At the current rate a student who takes 12 credits a semester would attend university for 5 years (10 semesters), and pay a total of 61,500 dollars. At the frozen rate, a student would attend for 4 year (8 semesters) and pay a total of 59,519 dollars. The total savings equal out to 1,981 dollars. The faster rate of graduation would also impact the amount a student pays in living expenses, though those number vary drastically between students. Simply put, college students can expect to pay the mortgage on a small house for their education, and a 1,000 dollar savings does not make up for the financial burden of attending even a public college.
The myth here is that this tuition freeze saves a student money only if they can graduate in 4 years. This is unlikely given that 56% of students take up to 6 years to graduate. In fact, the university’s own Diversity and Inclusion report measures graduation rates within the span of 6 years, not four. The university argues that 15 credits sets students up to graduate within 4 years, which is a conclusion based on simple math and not a solid basis for policy. Students switch majors, fail classes, need to take breaks, or work between semesters to pay for college. A four year degree is not feasible for everyone and should not be the cornerstone of an impactful economic decision for a university.
Students who work full time and also go to school full time can hardly afford either the tuition hike or the time consuming nature of the Go15 initiative. Three additional credit hours adds hours more homework outside of class, conventional wisdom is an additional 2-3 hours per credit hour. A website for credit recommendations from the University of Michigan Flint advises taking 3-6 credits while working 40 hours, and 12-18 for 20 hours of work or less. A student working full time and wishing to save money on tuition would be well beyond the advised limit of credits which could cause physical and mental harm to the student. A student could choose to take out loans in lieu of working full time, but this runs counter to the stated goal of the initiative which was to cut costs. Instead it increases the deferred cost and potentially adding more cost in interest after students graduate.
The university has excused this approach to tuition by saying, “the majority of students taking 15 credits or more per semester earn higher GPA’s.” This is a cause versus effect paradox, as many students taking 15 credits or more may have more free time to study, or were perhaps more prepared for a college workload from high school (which usually means they brought in AP or IB credits that lighten the financial burden of college). Forcing a student with limited free time to take more credits for financial reasons is an unconscionable policy for a university that touts its inclusivity.
This tuition freeze is regressive because the students who could benefit the most from lower tuition costs are exactly the students who don’t have time to take 15 credits a semester. This initiative targets the very students it should be attempting to help. It is understandable that as the state continues to defund higher education Universities must turn to other sources of revenue. Some additional sources of funding the university might be able to tap into include, the $112.4 million the university lost in interest rate swaps, the 23 million it spends on revenue sports, or perhaps the salaries of the administrators who failed to see the problems inherent in the Go15 initiative. In the wake of the UofM Go Blue Guarantee, which provides guaranteed free tuition for students whose family make less than 65,000 dollars a year, Michigan State’s approach to tuition costs and accessibility for low income and working students seems cold and ineffectual.