In a recent development, the University of Michigan announced a new initiative to help in-state students from low-income families attend school in Ann Arbor. They’re going to offer free tuition to anyone whose family makes less than $65,000 a year.
It’s not a new policy. It’s been proposed in the past, thought of before, and fantasized about by many different people. In fact, New York is trying something similar for their SUNY and CUNY campuses – a remarkably bigger endeavor than whatever the University of Michigan is trying to do.
The news at Michigan is a pretty big controversy, but not really for the right reasons. We’ll go over the wrong reasons first. At face value, the idea of free tuition turns a lot of heads, either ticking people off or appeasing them.
Some would argue this is just a hand-out that will go wrong for the university, or that it will price out middle-class students from attending. Others would argue that this is a necessary window for low-income students to access higher education. Today, that’s basically a necessity if you want a better chance at getting a better salary.
Despite all this, there’s a fact that shouldn’t be ignored, and it brings me to my next point. Michigan’s policy probably won’t be all that effective.
For starters, it’s a free tuition program, not a free overall cost of attendance program. Low-income students are still expected to pay for room and board, fees, textbooks costs. If you’ve gone to college or read anything about the cost of college, then you’ll know that those put together are no joke.
Sure, tuition is the main expense, but a majority of low-income students might still be required to take out student loans to cover these costs. I would bet that plenty of people hear free tuition and think that means no more student loans. It’s just not the case, and low-income students are more likely to need a loan to cover these costs.
That’s the easiest point, but it would apply to any school that’s offering just free tuition. Even in New York, in-state students are expected to foot the bill when it comes to required costs in addition to tuition.
There’s another glaring aspect about Michigan as a University that renders its tuition policy somewhat ineffective: admission standards.
In 2017, you could very well consider the University of Michigan to be an elite school, meaning it has high admission requirements. You need solid standardized test scores coming out of high school, and you need to have great grades in school. On top of that, there’s probably a huge preference for people who are involved in extracurricular activities (real interesting stuff like investment club or robotics club).
While its policy would waive tuition for low-income students, it’s admissions process basically barricades the school as an option to low-income students. You could say that it targets high-income students, and where do high-income students usually come from? The answer is private high schools.
Let’s compare your average joe from the standard public school and the standard private school.
Right off the bat, the standard private school teacher is going to be paid more compared to the public school teachers salary. They’re paid more because they’re most likely held to a higher standard. This difference in salary is probably going to attract better teaching talent to private schools.
Better teachers lead to better SAT and ACT preparation, and standardized test scores are an enormous factor in the college admissions process across the board. This alone has a gargantuan impact on your chances of getting admitted to a prestigious school.
Getting a high SAT or ACT score is like getting half a golden ticket, but you need solid grades to get into college, too. And I believe you’re more likely to get better grades at a private school. You’ll have a better support system behind you (they’re getting paid more). Sure, the school’s curriculum could be more challenging, leading to worse grades, but I find it hard to believe that colleges don’t factor this in. On that note, someone getting straight A’s at a school with a harder curriculum, yet better support system is at a distinct advantage when getting admitted anywhere for college.
Now, let’s talk about extracurricular activities. On average, there’s more money flowing through a private high school each year, so a private school has more to invest on its students. They’re more likely to have a robotics club with real hardware, or they’ll be able to enter prestigious competitions, offering big opportunities to students.
If you haven’t noticed, I haven’t even talked about public schools at all. Do I really need to? Sure, public schools can have some great teachers, and there are some exceptional public schools in the United States. I can personally vouch for that. But on average, I don’t think the typical public school is going to match up to a typical private school.
Michigan’s policy doesn’t make sense to me because it’s only going to impact a minority of students at the college who are actually from the low-income bracket. Only a small portion of low income students are able to meet requirements each year because Michigan’s admissions system favors students who typically come from money.
Much of the criticism has centered around this fact. The new program is supposed to bring in more low-income students from Michigan, but all I’ve heard about is how that’s not happening on the scale that was expected.
What do you think about this? Let me know if I forgot anything important because I’m sure there’s something that is open to discussion.