The second defense is the egregious drop in state aid. Yet, increasingly, in Michigan and elsewhere, legislators and worried parents and students are asking whether raising tuition annually has become too easy a fallback for cash-hungry universities. Bernard Silberman, eighty-two, a longtime professor of political science at the University of Chicago (and my uncle), had a simple answer when I asked him why colleges charge so much: "Because they can." My uncle is a tad cynical, but today a lot of young people feel they are being held hostage in a system where an increasingly expensive college degree is necessary to have even a shot at the good life.
Pollack emphasizes the U-M's commitment to meeting the financial needs of every in-state student--and not just with loans. In fact, she says, the "story locally is that given a really aggressive focus on cost containment here at the University of Michigan, loan burdens for low-to-moderate-income students have been going down the last four or five years." According to a chart she provides, borrowing by in-state undergrads fell from $4,000-$6,000 per year in 2009 to $3,000-$4,000 this year.
She adds, however, that the university is worried about "the increasing lack of [economic] diversity" among its out-of-state students. Just 50 percent currently receive financial aid, compared to 70 percent of kids from Michigan. Wanting to attract talented students from all backgrounds, her boss, provost Phil Hanlon, recently said that increasing aid to non-residents "is probably going to be the number one priority of our fundraising the next five or ten years."