Higher Education Subsidies: Is College More ‘Affordable’ for Those Who Don’t Go?

Gov. Snyder’s Proposal Hikes Cost to Taxpayers

Gov. Rick Snyder recommends spending $61 million more than last year on Michigan’s 15 state universities — a 4.3 percent increase. If the Legislature wants to do a favor for taxpayers as well as keep a handle on tuition increases, it should not approve this hike in spending.

Snyder’s intention to hike appropriations to state universities was met by applause from the usual quarters, such as university lobbyist Dan Hurley of the Michigan Association of State Universities. He told The Detroit News that the higher spending “sends a very strong signal from a governor and his administration that college affordability is a priority for the state.”

But “affordability” for whom? Giving universities more taxpayer money shifts the burden onto taxpayers instead of students, but it does not make the overall load less burdensome. Someone has to foot the bill for this additional spending, and that someone will not be those who benefit directly. Increased state spending on universities will decrease the affordability of everything else for those taxpayers — sending their child to private school, gassing up their vehicle or paying rent — all so the state’s student elite can, theoretically, pay less for the higher education that benefits them directly.

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It is worth noting that the governor’s proposed budget would permit a hike in the state cap on tuition rate increases, sending it to 4.8 from the current 3.2 percent. Raising tuition by an amount equal to or less than this cap qualifies the universities to receive additional “incentive” dollars. To put those possible tuition hikes in perspective consider that the Consumer Price Index — a measure of average price inflation — went up only 0.7 percent in 2015.

At least by one measure, our state universities have already shown that they can do more with less in taxpayer money. State payments to these schools fell from $1.7 billion to $1.3 billion from 2006 to 2014 and yet the universities awarded 15 percent more bachelor degrees and 10 percent more of other degrees and certificates.

Legislators should be skeptical of the proposed increase in taxpayer support of state universities. Whether it will result more graduates is unclear, but it certainly makes life less affordable to the many taxpayers who never graduated from college and are forced to subsidize those who do.

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