Through nearly her entire 12 years as U-M president, Mary Sue Coleman and the university’s budget team have been working hard to keep the cost of attendance in check during a time of economic decline in the state and falling state funding for universities.
During her first visit to Lansing in 2003 to discuss state funding with legislators, she emphasized the importance of state support in the face of a $36 million recommended cut. “We will share in the burden of the current budget challenge,” she told legislative leaders, “but we hope you will help us preserve our quality and our ability to be a real economic force in this state.”
Even though state funding on a per-student basis fell by nearly half during her tenure, the Coleman-led U-M was able to keep tuition increases modest while directly addressing the needs of students by increasing financial aid at a much greater rate than tuition. U-M remains the only state university, and one of just a handful nationwide, to provide 100 percent of demonstrated financial need to state-resident students.
This year’s budget was approved with the smallest tuition increase (1.1 percent) in nearly 30 years, marking the fifth straight year that financial aid offset any increase in the cost of attendance for most state-resident students with financial need.
The federal government ranked U-M as having one of the slowest rates of increase in tuition nationally in 2013 and U-M was ranked No. 6 on Kiplinger’s list of 100 Best Values in Public Colleges for 2014.
The university has accomplished this, in part, by maintaining a relentless focus on cost containment. Under Coleman’s leadership the university has trimmed more than $265 million in recurring costs from the general fund budget and continues to cut more.
Coleman also helped to elevate the national conversation about college affordability when she wrote to President Obama in December 2011. She outlined an approach to supporting higher education that called for reinvestment by the states, collaboration with the private sector, increased donor support and ongoing cost cutting by universities. A year later, Obama visited U-M to praise the university for its efforts and he outlined his own plan to keep college affordable.
Last month, when Coleman went to Lansing for the last time to address lawmakers, she said she was encouraged by a recommended 6 percent increase in funding for universities because, “I firmly believe that states that do not invest in higher education will not win in the 21st century. And I want the state of Michigan to win.”