Advice for Schlissel: Lower tuition

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Today, Mark Schlissel is installed as the 14th  president of the University of Michigan. We welcome him to Ann Arbor. In the time-honored tradition of busybody neighbors, we want to give him some advice. He didn’t ask for it, he might not want it or need it. But we hope he’ll take a few minutes and read it. Ann Arbor’s full of hypersmart, outspoken people. That’s a big part of what makes this place amazing. Enjoy, and join in the fun!

Ben Rosenstock at Angell Hall | Benjamin Weatherston

Ben Rosenstock at Angell Hall | Benjamin Weatherston

Benjamin Rosenstock is a sophomore in the Honors College at the University of Michigan, majoring in English. In 2013, he graduated from Harrison High School in Farmington Hills, where he was the editor-in-chief of his school newspaper. He hopes to work in the publishing industry after college and also plans to combine his English education with experience in journalism to aid him in writing novels.

Mark Schlissel will have many issues to deal with as he begins his first year as president of the University of Michigan, but one priority stands above the rest: Make college more affordable.

Each year, schools like U-M spend much of their money on long-term investments instead of immediate expenses. The majority of the university’s $9.47 billion endowment is spent according to the donors’ wishes. Despite this handicap — if you think of it that way — U-M has the seventh largest endowment in the country, and the second largest endowment of any public school in the country. According to U-M’s public affairs website, when the university’s endowment was $8.4 billion, the money that didn’t go toward donors’ purposes could support 61,000 students. Only 20 percent went to direct financial aid, but the rest indirectly contributed by paying for expenses otherwise paid for by tuition. (There were 43,710 students enrolled at the university as of fall 2013.)

Harvard, Yale and Stanford have increased their financial aid due to their huge endowments, despite similar constraints. Maybe it’s time that U-M takes more chances and focuses on making college more affordable now, rather than being so cautious with future investments. Last year, Harvard approved a 2 percent increase in endowment distribution, only a year after a 5 percent increase. U-M, on the other hand, stays at 4.5 percent. I understand the motivations behind the university’s wide-scale distribution model, but maybe it’s time to focus more on direct student aid, and maybe Schlissel can help with that.

As a student at a high-tier university like the University of Michigan, it’s easy to feel dismissed when I mention the difficulty of paying for school. Everyone obviously wishes tuition was lower, and scholarships more readily available, so there will always be people who say, “Well, sure, no one likes paying tuition. But it’s a thing everyone does.” These are real, legitimate concerns, though, and when the administration casually ignores them, it’s hard not to feel a little neglected.

Just because it’s universally difficult to pay for college doesn’t mean it’s not a valid issue.

So what’s most important is that President Schlissel find some way to address these issues in a substantial way, to make students feel heard, whether it’s through increased contact with publications like The Michigan Daily or more direct conversation with individual students. It’s easy to claim vague goals in preliminary interviews, as in the media session on July 18 after his first week on the job, where Schlissel discussed his hopes for the beginning of his presidency. But he really needs to make concrete change that students can understand.

Ideological musings and good intentions are great, but they won’t always be enough to satisfy students who have to work every day to make ends meet.


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