New report says University of Michigan, others straying from public mission
In a new report, the University of Michigan has found itself in unfamiliar territory — the bottom.
The Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit group Education Trust gave the University of Michigan some of the lowest overall marks out of 50 public flagship research institutions studied for the report, "Opportunity Adrift," released Jan. 12 .
Instead of the traditional markers of prestige - like the academic status of the incoming freshmen class - the report focused on how well the nation's best public research institutions reflect the student populations of their states.
Melanie Maxwell | AnnArbor.com
Thirty-nine percent of students attending public colleges in Michigan receive federal Pell Grants - the universal marker for need - but only 13 percent of those enrolled at U-M receive the grant, said Jennifer Engle, a report co-author and assistant director of higher education for The Education Trust.
Engle says such statistics show flagship public research institutions are turning their backs on populations they serve, favoring children of the elite over academically qualified low-income or minority students.
"Public universities were founded to provide that premier education experience in a cost accessible to the full range of students in their states," she said. "But what we see is that they are not living up to that part of their mission, to really be that center of excellence for the entire breadth of their state populations."
University of Michigan officials will respond to the report after reviewing it thoroughly, U-M spokesperson Kelly Cunningham said Friday in a written statement.
"We have recently received a copy of the Education Trust report, and want to give it thorough and serious consideration. Until then, we cannot discuss the report in depth. The report covers topics of great importance that are central to American higher education. At the University of Michigan, we work to make higher education accessible and to ensure that our students succeed."
Study authors said U-M also received low marks because the school's minority enrollment numbers aren't keeping pace with increasing numbers of under-represented minorities - blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans - in the state's population.
"The population of under-represented minority students within state of Michigan increased , but the percent of minority students enrolled at the University of Michigan remained about the same; they weren't keeping up with the trends in demographics in the state," said Mary Lynch, a co-author of the study and a higher education research and policy analyst for The Education Trust.
There is no mention in the study of Proposal 2, the measure approved by Michigan voters in 2006 that banned racial and gender preferences in government hiring and public university admissions.
Areas explored and compared among the 50 flagships included low-income and underrepresented minority student access, the relative success of students from those groups in earning a degree, and on the changes in those figures over time.
U-M received low marks, as did the University of Indiana Bloomington, in two key areas: in the category that measured overall success of minority and low-income student access and minority graduation rates, and in the category that measured progress in those areas. Authors analyzed data from 2004-2005 and compared it to data from 2007-2008 to measure progress.
The report also pointed out the University of Michigan is one of nine institutions studied that make financial aid pledges to the neediest students. U-M helps fully cover expenses of students with family incomes under $20,000 and no expected financial contribution.
Peter McPherson, who led Michigan State University for 11 years and now serves as president of the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities, released a statement defending the universities.
Public universities have made great strides to expand funds for student aid, worked to increase graduation rates for all racial/ethic categories of students and increased the proportion of minority enrollment overall during the time studied, McPherson said.