Ignore the sticker price at Michigan universities. Here’s the real cost.

Saginaw Valley State University had the lowest sticker price for tuition, room, board and fees among state public universities, but it’s the most expensive for low-income families.

UM least expensive for poor, MSU most expensive for rich

How much college can cost depends on your family income and where you choose to go to school. Here are the rankings for the 2016-17 school year for three income groups – low income, middle income and upper income. Net cost is the actual cost of attendance for first-year, first-time students living on campus, minus all financial aid that doesn’t have to be paid back. It includes tuition, room and board and fees.

Family income up to $30,000

RankSchoolNet costChange since
1UM - Ann Arbor$3,249-40.6%
2Lake Superior$6,46620.4
3UM - Flint$6,893-31.3
5Michgian Tech$7,211-10.5
6UM - Dearborn$7,814-7.9
7Ferris State$8,173-1
10Wayne State$9,300-6.2
12Grand Valley$11,6040.6
15Saginaw Valley$12,2215.5

Family income $48,000 to $75,000

RankSchoolNet costChange since
1UM - Ann Arbor$9,895-13.2%
2UM - Dearborn$11,447-15.4
4UM - Flint$12,025-23.6
5Michgian Tech$13,2337.2
6Ferris State$13,593-10.8
7Lake Superior$13,79320.2
11Wayne State$14,1582.9
12Saginaw Valley$14,9062.6
13Grand Valley$15,385-3

Family income over $110,000

RankSchoolNet costChange since
1UM - Dearborn$14,750-4.8%
2UM - Flint$15,244-15.2
3Saginaw Valley$16,8901.7
4Lake Superior$17,079-12.5
6Ferris State$18,023-2.3
7Wayne State$18,188-2.1
11Grand Valley$20,9661.9
12Michgian Tech$21,9869.2
14UM - Ann Arbor$25,0017.1

There are huge differences in net price – the bill families actually pay – among Michigan’s public universities, and those differences appear to have little or no relation to the schools’ widely publicized sticker prices.

A Bridge analysis of data available from the U.S. Department of Education found net price differences that can save families tens of thousands of dollars over the course of a college career, depending on their circumstances. Students from low-income families, for instance, typically pay less than half the stated price.

Net cost is the actual cost of attendance for first-year, first-time students living on campus, minus all financial aid that doesn’t have to be paid back.

Some Michigan colleges that are inexpensive for students from poor families are among the most costly for the middle class. Bridge also found that, surprisingly, college costs are actually going down for a sizable chunk of Michigan students.

Related: Why rural Michigan teens are skipping out on college. It's not grades

Yet many poor students, or students who would be the first in their families to attend college, are unaware of the true price tag. The result: fewer of these students apply, thinking they cannot afford a public university education.

Here are a few insights into the real cost of an education at Michigan’s 15 public universities:

Real costs rising more slowly

Between the 2013-14 school year and 2016-17, the latest year data is available, the sticker price increased at Michigan’s 14 public universities that offer university housing (U-M Dearborn, the state’s 15th public university, is primarily a commuter campus, and wasn’t included in the Bridge analysis of sticker prices).

But those announced price hikes can be misleading.

For the vast majority of income groups and campuses, the net cost of attendance rose less than the sticker price. And for low-income students, the cost of a year of college at Michigan’s public universities is typically less than half the sticker price.

Just how much difference can that make? Saginaw Valley State University had the lowest sticker price among Michigan’s public universities in 2016-17, at $21,000. But Saginaw Valley is the most expensive in the state in net cost for low-income students ($12,221).

August 2019: Being poor on rich U-M campus still a struggle as school broadens reach

Saginaw Valley spokesperson J.J. Boehm said the college has upped financial aid in the two years subsequent to the federal data, and has “significantly increased the amount of need-based financial aid we award to students.”

“Make no mistake ‒ college affordability is a real barrier to attaining a degree,” said Brandy Johnson, president of Michigan College Access Network, an organization that works to increase college readiness, particularly for low-income and first-generation college students.

“But perceived affordability is also just as much a barrier.

“Picture a low-income, first generation college-going student discovering the sticker price of tuition. A natural response is to price herself out of the college marketplace, before having a chance to understanding the complexities of the FAFSA, Pell Grants, subsidized loans, and institutional aid that actually make college wholly within reach.”

Costs are actually going down for some students

At seven of the state’s 15 public universities, net cost of attendance for poor students (families earning under $30,000 a year) declined between 2014 and 2017 – it declined at nine universities when costs are adjusted for inflation.

The same is true on six campuses for students from families earning between $30,000 and $48,000 (12 if adjusted for inflation); and on six campus for middle-class families earning between $48,000 and $75,000 (nine if adjusted for inflation).

At the University of Michigan-Flint, the net cost dropped for students in all income groups over the three-year period. At the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, costs were down for students from families earning less than $110,000.

That’s a result of the state’s public universities responding to concerns that families were being priced out of higher education, said Bob Murphy, director of university relations and policy at the Michigan Association of State Universities.

Big price differences for the middle class

The college bill paid by middle-class families varies by as much as $9,000 a year at Michigan’s public universities.

Consider this: U-M’s sticker price was $1,476 per year higher than the sticker price at rival Michigan State in 2016-17. But for middle-class students, it was $9,669 cheaper in net cost to be a Wolverine than a Spartan ($9,895 versus $19,564). That’s because U-M offers more financial aid.

In essence, a middle class kid can get two years in Ann Arbor for the price of one year in East Lansing.

Another middle-class bargain? Oakland University

At the University of Michigan’s Ann Arbor campus, the average net cost for in-state students from middle-class families is $9,895 per year; at Oakland University, it’s $11,593.

“While we don’t specifically target middle-income families, it is good to know we are meeting the needs of that student population,” said John Beaghan, vice president for finance and administration at Oakland University.

“We encourage all students to apply for any grants and/or scholarships that will help cover the cost attending OU and lower their net price.”

‘Spartans Will’ be most expensive

MSU is comparatively affordable for low-income students, with a net price of $7,058 a year for students from families earning under $30,000 in 2016-17 – the fourth lowest-priced school in the state.

But the East Lansing campus is the most expensive state university for the middle class and higher. For students from families earning $75,000 to $110,000, the net cost at MSU was a full $3,350 higher than the next most expensive public university. ($24,075 at MSU compared with $20,725 at Western Michigan.)

“MSU’s policy is to allocate financial aid based on need. We have a larger number of students with need than other universities," MSU spokeswoman Emily Guerrant wrote in an email to Bridge. "With a need-based financial aid model, lower income families will have a higher percentage of their costs covered resulting in a lower net price. For the past several years the university has increased the amount of financial aid available."
Price hasn't been a deterrent at MSU: the upcoming freshman class is expected to be it's largest ever.

Comparatively cheap no matter income? Lake Superior State

The public university in Sault Ste. Marie in the Upper Peninsula doesn’t get a lot of attention, with an enrollment of around 2,000 students, but Lake Superior State is a bargain compared to most campuses in the state.

LSSU ranked among the lowest-cost campuses in the state in all income groups. In 2016-17. Low-income students paid an average net cost of $6,466 for the school year, about half the price paid by low-income students at Saginaw Valley State University ($12,221).

One possible reason: in true Up North fashion, the college doesn’t spend a lot on “expensive facilities,” which allows it to keep prices low, said John Kawauchi, vice president of enrollment, Marketing, and IT at Lake Superior State.

U-M is best bargain for the poor, but has fewest poor students.

The state university with the highest sticker price is also the cheapest for the majority of Michigan families. The net cost on the Ann Arbor campus is the lowest among the state’s public universities for families earning less than $30,000 per year, families earning between $30,000 and $48,000, and middle-class families earning between $48,000 and $75,000.

Despite generous financial aid, U-M has trouble attracting low-income students. Just 4.3 percent of Wolverines were from families earning less than $30,000 in 2015-16, less than half the percentage of the university with the next-lowest share of poor students, Michigan Tech (9.5 percent). At U-M’s sister campus, University of Michigan-Flint, 31 percent of students were from low-income families.

One often-cited reason is that U-M has Ivy League-level admission standards, and low-income students typically score lower on tests such as the SAT and ACT. Another possible reason: the perception that U-M is too costly.

Related: The University of Michigan asks, ‘Where are the poor kids?’

To battle that, U-M launched the Go Blue Guarantee for the 2017-18 school year,  offering four years of free tuition for students from families earning $65,000 or less. The median household income in Michigan is $52,000. Free tuition doesn’t mean free college ‒ there’s still the matter of room and board, books and fees ‒ but free tuition certainly makes higher education more affordable.

The school hasn’t release any data yet to indicate whether its campaign increased the number of low-income student applying or being accepted to U-M.

The true cost for Wayne State is dropping

Despite its sticker price going up 7.5 percent between 2013-14 and 2016-17, the actual cost of attendance at Wayne State University dropped for every income group, when accounting for inflation. Net cost for poor students (families earning under $30,000), dipped 6 percent; while the cost to students from families earning over $110,000 dropped 2 percent.


Central Michigan University

Family income groups0 to $30,000$30,000 to $48,000$48,000 to $75,000$75,000 to $110,000Over $110,000
Net price, 2016-17$11,011$11,713$14,008$17,648$18,728
(1=lowest cost, 15=highest)
Change since 2013-142.4%5.2%-3.1%-3.8%-5%
As percent of sticker ($23,494)46.9%49.9%59.6%75.1%79.7%

Eastern Michigan University

Family income groups0 to $30,000$30,000 to $48,000$48,000 to $75,000$75,000 to $110,000Over $110,000
Net price, 2016-17$11,953$12,588$14,031$16,581$17,268
(1=lowest cost, 15=highest)
Change since 2013-148.3%10.7%7.7%8.2%8.9%
As percent of sticker ($23,385)51.1%53.8%60%70.9%73.8%

Ferris State University

Family income groups0 to $30,000$30,000 to $48,000$48,000 to $75,000$75,000 to $110,000Over $110,000
Net price, 2016-17$8,173$10,796$13,593$16,704$18,023
(1=lowest cost, 15=highest)
Change since 2013-14-1%-6.1%-10.8%-5.3%-2.3%
As percent of sticker ($22,976)35.6%47%59.2%72.7%78.4%

Grand Valley State University

Family income groups0 to $30,000$30,000 to $48,000$48,000 to $75,000$75,000 to $110,000Over $110,000
Net price, 2016-17$11,604$12,507$15,385$19,127$20,966
(1=lowest cost, 15=highest)
Change since 2013-140.6%0.3%-3%-0.2%1.9%
As percent of sticker ($23,066)50.3%54.2%66.7%82.9%90.9%

Lake Superior State University

Family income groups0 to $30,000$30,000 to $48,000$48,000 to $75,000$75,000 to $110,000Over $110,000
Net price, 2016-17$6,466$8,276$13,793$16,139$17,079
(1=lowest cost, 15=highest)
Change since 2013-1420.4%1.4%20.2%-11.1%-12.5%
As percent of sticker ($23,161)27.9%35.7%59.6%69.7%73.7%

Michigan State University

Family income groups0 to $30,000$30,000 to $48,000$48,000 to $75,000$75,000 to $110,000Over $110,000
Net price, 2016-17$7,058$13,116$19,564$24,075$26,035
(1=lowest cost, 15=highest)
Change since 2013-149.7%9.3%10.2%10.5%10.4%
As percent of sticker ($27,290)25.9%48.1%71.7%88.2%95.4%

Michigan Technological University

Family income groups0 to $30,000$30,000 to $48,000$48,000 to $75,000$75,000 to $110,000Over $110,000
Net price, 2016-17$7,211$9,753$13,233$16,711$21,986
(1=lowest cost, 15=highest)
Change since 2013-14-10.5%0.1%7.2%1.2%9.2%
As percent of sticker ($28,279)25.5%34.5%46.8%59.1%77.7%

Northern Michigan University

Family income groups0 to $30,000$30,000 to $48,000$48,000 to $75,000$75,000 to $110,000Over $110,000
Net price, 2016-17$8,305$10,170$13,901$17,463$18,842
(1=lowest cost, 15=highest)
Change since 2013-1410.4%1.1%7.1%7.3%10.3%
As percent of sticker ($27,666)30%36.8%50.2%63.1%68.1%

Oakland University

Family income groups0 to $30,000$30,000 to $48,000$48,000 to $75,000$75,000 to $110,000Over $110,000
Net price, 2016-17$8,380$8,957$11,593$15,139$18,247
(1=lowest cost, 15=highest)
Change since 2013-144.6%1.6%7.6%7.7%9.1%
As percent of sticker ($24,482)34.2%36.6%47.4%61.8%74.5%

Saginaw Valley State University

Family income groups0 to $30,000$30,000 to $48,000$48,000 to $75,000$75,000 to $110,000Over $110,000
Net price, 2016-17$12,221$12,193$14,906$16,309$16,890
(1=lowest cost, 15=highest)
Change since 2013-145.5%-1.1%2.6%2.6%1.7%
As percent of sticker ($21,000)58.2%58.1%71%77.7%80.4%

University of Michigan-Ann Arbor

Family income groups0 to $30,000$30,000 to $48,000$48,000 to $75,000$75,000 to $110,000Over $110,000
Net price, 2016-17$3,249$5,575$9,895$17,705$25,001
(1=lowest cost, 15=highest)
Change since 2013-14-40.6%-27.9%-13.2%-3%7.1%
As percent of sticker ($28,766)11.3%19.4%34.4%61.5%86.9%

University of Michigan-Dearborn*

Family income groups0 to $30,000$30,000 to $48,000$48,000 to $75,000$75,000 to $110,000Over $110,000
Net price, 2016-17$7,814$7,724$11,447$12,577$14,750
(1=lowest cost, 15=highest)
Change since 2013-14-7.9%-24.8%-15.4%-13.6%-4.8%

*Sticker costs for other schools include on-campus lodging. UM-Dearborn does not have on-campus residential housing.

University of Michigan-Flint

Family income groups0 to $30,000$30,000 to $48,000$48,000 to $75,000$75,000 to $110,000Over $110,000
Net price, 2016-17$6,893$7,426$12,025$15,447$15,244
(1=lowest cost, 15=highest)
Change since 2013-14-31.3%-34.5%-23.6%-13%-15.2%
As percent of sticker ($23,960)28.8%31%50.2%64.5%63.6%

Wayne State University

Family income groups0 to $30,000$30,000 to $48,000$48,000 to $75,000$75,000 to $110,000Over $110,000
Net price, 2016-17$9,300$11,399$14,158$17,420$18,188
(1=lowest cost, 15=highest)
Change since 2013-14-6.2%1.9%2.9%-0.1%-2.1%
As percent of sticker ($25,357)36.7%45%55.8%68.7%71.7%

Western Michigan University

Family income groups0 to $30,000$30,000 to $48,000$48,000 to $75,000$75,000 to $110,000Over $110,000
Net price, 2016-17$11,798$13,837$17,951$20,725$22,125
(1=lowest cost, 15=highest)
Change since 2013-14-9.1%-4.1%2.6%6%12.8%
As percent of sticker ($24,680)47.8%56.1%72.7%84%89.6%

*Net cost is the actual cost of attendance for first-year, first-time students living on campus, minus all financial aid that doesn’t have to be paid back. It includes tuition, room and board and fees.

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Karen Dunnam
Thu, 06/28/2018 - 10:12am

Something I discovered as an undergrad 40-some years ago...that freshman year is packed with basic classes, essentially like a more advanced year of high school. When I enrolled at a community college, I was able to used my participation in a community band as a liberal arts elective. Transferring into MSU I was an "old sophomore" but didn't have to to take American Thought and Language classes in the English department.

Robyn Tonkin
Thu, 06/28/2018 - 2:29pm

Forty years ago you could also participate in "advanced placement." If you took advanced high school classes, like advanced chemistry or biology, and did well, you could get college credit for the classes as well as having them count for high school graduation. Today, the programs that can be counted as college credit are more widespread. In Wisconsin, you can attend community college for two years, then transfer to the UW system, and get UW credit for your community college work. It's much easier today to get college credit for classes not taken at a four year university, or for life experience, than it was for baby boomers.

Thu, 06/28/2018 - 2:21pm

The days off a four year college or university for most will never be affordable. R.L>.

Robyn Tonkin
Thu, 06/28/2018 - 2:48pm

Articles about college always talk about tuition vs financial aid available. My husband and I never got financial aid for our daughter, we paid for the whole thing ourselves (four years at Big 10 universities, in-state), so talking about financial aid is meaningless to us. We are and were, when we were educating her, middle class people. My husband was a federal civil servant and an Army reserve officer. I was a stay at home wife and mother with on and off again employment. We saved enough to pay for the first two years before our daughter graduated from high school, and my husband kept taking tours with the military to pay for the rest, which included a summer at an expensive language immersion school. What really pumps up the cost of college is all the peripheral expenses, that are not "tuition". We bought her a car, we paid the rent on apartments and paid all the utilities and gave her food money. We bought the books and paid the lab fees. I know it's a small thing, relatively speaking, but I hated paying the hundreds of dollars that I paid to the copy center for classroom material. Now, everything's online, I am sure. Hundreds of dollars of copies went into the trash at the end of the semester. Because it was before the ACA, I had to buy her health insurance when she was too old to be on ours. We were held hostage at the end. In order for her to get her diploma, I had to re-pay library fines that I had already paid, because they could find no record of the payment. Another $100 ka-ching. We started to saving for our child's education when she was born. If you don't start that early, no matter where your child wants to matriculate, the sticker price will be unaffordable without indenturing your life and your child's life for decades to come, in not forever. Our child is 38 and her friends all still have college loan debt.

Thu, 07/05/2018 - 4:37pm

Spell check baby

Ben Martin
Fri, 09/06/2019 - 8:17am

Perhaps it's just semantics...

But, I find it interesting that $110,000 in household income qualifies you as a "rich family" for this report.