Students pay larger share of college costs, study shows

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LANSING — Students at Michigan's universities are being asked to shoulder ever-larger shares of the cost of their education, according to a new report.

The cost of higher education per Michigan student actually declined between 2002 and 2006, according to the Delta Project on Postsecondary Education Costs, Productivity and Accountability, an independent nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C.

Meanwhile, state aid to public universities has been on the decline.

At the schools that the Delta Project classified as public research institutions in Michigan, the project found average per-student costs dropped by 7 percent. Those universities are Central Michigan, Michigan State, Michigan Technological, Oakland, University of Michigan Ann Arbor, Wayne State and Western Michigan.

But that decline has been offset by an even steeper increase in the student share of educational costs. At those institutions, the students’ proportion of the cost rose by nearly a third in the same timeframe.

The cost decreases at the schools classified as public master’s institutions were less, only 1 percent, but the students’ proportion of the cost at those schools rose by a quarter. Those universities are Eastern Michigan, Ferris State, Grand Valley State, Lake Superior State, Northern Michigan, Saginaw Valley State, University of Michigan Dearborn and University of Michigan Flint.

For example, the share of Northern Michigan University revenues from tuition climbed by 40 percent, while the share from government has dropped by 20 percent. At the same time, what the average in-state student paid at Northern for tuition, fees and room and board jumped by 34 percent, project figures show.

The rising costs are a widespread concern.

For example, in her State of the State address, Gov. Jennifer Granholm requested that Michigan universities and community colleges freeze tuitions for the year, saying, “As we accelerate our push to get more kids to college, we cannot have them priced out of the market by tuition increases.”

The Delta Project study placed a special emphasis on how much of the rise in overall costs is due to administrative expenses.

Oakland University is targeting its administrative costs as it works to control expenditures.

“We've been doing it all along. We got lucky,” said Ted Montgomery, director of media relations at Oakland. “Since our current president entered the job full time in 1996, he's all about cost cutting.”

Montgomery pointed to the university's use of “lean management strategies” under President Gary Russi as a way to attack its administrative costs.

According to Delta Project figures, Oakland had 3.9 full-time executive or administrative staff members for every 1,000 students in 2006 — the third-lowest among all four-year institutions the report had figures for. By contrast, the state average was 17.4, and the University of Michigan’s Ann Arbor campus had 40.9 — more than 10 times as many as Oakland.

The difference in administrative staff sizes may be helping keep Oakland’s prices down. Between 2002 and 2006, the increase in its total tuition, fees and books was 11 percent less than that at U-M.

Other universities are targeting different areas as they try to control costs.

“One of the few major things MSU and all universities are facing is health care costs. It’s now 7.5 percent of the general fund,” said Jason Cody, media communications manager at Michigan State University Relations.

“There’s going to be negotiations between MSU and the various bargaining units,” he said, saying that those unions and the workers they represent understand the financial pressures facing the university.

Cody also acknowledged the importance of administrative efficiency.

“MSU ranks seventh in the Big Ten in number of employees, despite being second in the Big Ten in student population size,” he said.

Cody also pointed to cost-cutting initiatives to move university publications away from paper and onto the Web and environmental efforts that are reducing energy use.

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