Calculating tuition at Grand Valley State University begins the same way every year.
School officials estimate staff costs and utilities. They have a good idea how many students they’ll enroll. But the rest of the equation is dependent upon a variable beyond the university's control or analysis: appropriations decisions made by state legislators.
Last year, all 15 state universities absorbed a 15 percent cut in state general fund appropriations. For the budget process that begins February and takes effect in October, no one is sure what the overall result will be. The only safe assumption Grand Valley administrators can make is that their school will remain dead last in funding-per-student.
Michigan supports higher education at a lower rate than most states, and funds its own 15 schools at vastly different rates. Wayne State received the equivalent of $7,225 in appropriations per student for the 2011-12 school year, tops in the state. Grand Valley, by contrast, received $2,365 per student.
The disparity is partly due to Grand Valley’s success. Grand Valley’s enrollment has grown rapidly in the past decade. The state’s funding doesn’t take into account enrollment, forcing GVSU to pay for more teachers and classrooms with less per-student funding.
The result? Higher student costs at GVSU.
Wayne State, with its top-in-the-state per-student appropriations, has an average net price for students of $10,147. By contrast, Grand Valley’s net cost is $15,934.
“We get the blame,,” said Matt McLogan, vice president for university relations at GVSU,* “but it’s not our fault.”
Editor's note: McLogan is a member of Bridge Magazine's Board of Advisers