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A big barrier to Michigan’s top public university falls, so step up, students

Mark Schlissel

The University of Michigan is a public university, founded 200 years ago with the sole purpose of serving the public good. Last week, we were proud to announce an initiative that enhances our public mission by guaranteeing free tuition to in-state students with the greatest financial need. About half of the families in Michigan may be eligible for what we are calling the Go Blue Guarantee.  

While this is a new financial aid program for our Ann Arbor campus, the motivation and commitment behind it represent longstanding university values. For years, we have sought the most talented students from all communities in Michigan and we have provided generous financial aid to all students according to their financial need. This includes those from middle-class families as well as some from families with incomes as high as $180,000 a year.

These commitments to broad statewide access to a U-M education and generous need-based financial aid will not change. Our admissions process does not take into account a student’s ability to pay, and we will continue to meet the full financial need of all in-state students. 

What the Go Blue Guarantee does is offer an important promise to the people of our state. It transforms our historic commitment to helping qualified students from Michigan afford a U-M education into a guarantee. The guarantee is this: All in-state undergraduate students from families with an annual income of up to $65,000 will receive up to four years of free tuition if admitted to our Ann Arbor campus, subject to certain limits.

About half the families in the state of Michigan make $65,000 or less, and the Go Blue Guarantee covers the full cost of tuition for students from these families if they’re eligible – and they may also receive additional financial aid for books, room and board, and other costs based on their individual circumstances.  

I have heard from far too many students and families throughout our state who don’t pursue a U-M education because they fear they can’t afford it. This is heartbreaking.

We want all qualified students to know that if they work hard, apply and get admitted, the University of Michigan will be there for them, regardless of their family’s financial situation.

Imagine having a child who works hard, gets good grades and demonstrates leadership in the community – and yet who won’t even try to get into Michigan because they don’t think they can afford it. Money should not stand in the way of students’ dreams of bettering their lives through education and earning a college degree.

Since announcing the Go Blue Guarantee, some people have asked how the university is able to afford such a generous program.

The Go Blue Guarantee is the result of more than a decade of double-digit growth in our financial aid budget, careful financial management of the university, and the generosity of our donors. Over the last 10 years, we have increased our undergraduate financial aid budget by an average of 11.3 percent per year, compared with 4 percent per year for in-state undergraduate tuition. Today’s students with financial need are paying less to attend U-M than students of a decade ago – and for graduates who leave U-M with debt, the average balances are lower and declining.

Our current Victors for Michigan fundraising campaign has raised nearly $1 billion for student support, and 21 percent of our endowment is dedicated to financial aid. This means our generous donors share our belief in educational opportunity for all students.

Our commitment to serve all people in Michigan extends to middle-class families seeking to send students to U-M, as well. Many in-state students from families earning up to $125,000 a year are awarded scholarships and grants that pay half their tuition. The amount of these financial aid awards depend on many factors, including how many kids you have in college, assets, etc. I can’t say this enough: Financial aid is complex, and there are many misconceptions out there, so please apply for aid if you think you may need help paying for college. U-M has staff trained to help Michigan families navigate the process.

In light of the value U-M provides, we were recognized as the top public university in Money Magazine’s 2016 list of “Best Colleges for your Money.” The rankings were determined by factors that include graduation rates, affordability, loan amounts for students and families and future earnings potential of our graduates.

The Go Blue Guarantee cuts through the complexities of financial aid to help us reach talented students from all communities across our state. I have always believed that talent is ubiquitous in our society, but opportunity most certainly is not. The Go Blue Guarantee helps us ensure more opportunity for those with the most financial need, while preserving affordability for all Michigan residents.

The University of Michigan’s commitment to provide access to an outstanding and affordable college education to the people of our great state is the highest expression of our mission to serve the public good. I am honored to express this commitment to all Michigan residents, written proudly, in maize and blue.

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