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Posted on Tue, Jan 24, 2012 : 2:59 p.m.

Obama in Ann Arbor: College affordability theme will resonate with University of Michigan students

By Kellie Woodhouse


Barack Obama speaks at the spring 2010 commencement ceremonies at the University of Michigan.

Melanie Maxwell |

As President Barack Obama prepares for his State of the Union speech tonight, University of Michigan students are anticipating not what he'll say in a few hours, but what he'll say on Friday morning as he addresses rising college costs at one of the most expensive public universities in the nation.

On Friday at 9:35 a.m. Obama will speak about college affordability before a crowd at the Al Glick Field House on U-M's South Campus in Ann Arbor.

"It's a big issue. A college education is getting much more expensive than it used to be, so finding some way to address it now and stop it from increasing even more would be really helpful," said cognitive psychology graduate student Sara Festini, who is from California. "Because college education is invaluable to the progress of our country."

Like Michigan, Festini's home state has seen a large disinvestment in public universities and in-state tuition at the state's flagship universities, the University of California at Berkley and at Los Angeles, is more costly than tuition at U-M. The cost of U-M's tuition outpaces that of the University of Virginia and the University of North Carolina, two prestigious public universities. A recent analysis by the Center for Michigan asserts that Michigan's public universities are among the most expensive in the nation.

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For MariTi Lovell, a junior psychology major from New York, the cost of tuition isn't just a statistic, it's personal. Even though she's worked diligently with the school's scholarship and financial aid offices, Lovell will graduate with a debt pushing $20,000, she said.

Tuition for an out-of-state student at U-M is $37,265 per year, one of the highest rates for outsiders at a public institution.

"I’m hoping to keep it below $20,000, but it's already a lot more than I expected when I first came," she said of her mounting loans.

"I can see why (Obama) would come here. I'm an out-of-state student so tuition is really expensive," Lovell said. "It's a public university and tuition is so high, if he's going to speak anywhere then here is probably the best place."

Obama has been subtly leading a conversation on college affordability over the past two months. On Dec. 5, he invited the presidents of several public universities and university systems to discuss ways to stem college costs and incentivize state investment in higher education.

U-M President Mary Sue Coleman, who was invited to the forum but did not attend, sent Obama an open letter urging him to address college affordability on Dec. 16.

"The cost of attending college is one of the most serious matters facing a country that seeks to strengthen its global competitiveness," she said. "How we resolve this dilemma requires collaboration, sacrifice and hard choices."

U-M this year raised tuition 6.7 percent. It also saw a $47.5 million drop in state funding. The state now funds about 17 percent of the school's general fund, a record low.

The public is "more concerned than I’ve heard about possibly in my career" about the cost of education, Coleman said. "Michigan has been one of the most difficult (cases of decreased funding), but it’s happening everywhere."

Michigan native and U-M senior Katie Russ is sharing her $14,240 tuition cost with her family by taking out loans. U-M estimates the annual cost for an in-state junior or senior to attend its Ann Arbor campus is $26,810. That estimate includes room and board, books and other incidental expenses.

“It’s kind of a paradox because they keep talking about college affordability, yet when you’re a junior and senior undergrad, your tuition increases,” she said. Tuition for upperclassmen increases $898 per year for in-state students and $1,908 per year for out-of-state students.

Russ said she's skeptical about whether Obama's speech will lead to the policy changes necessary to ensure a more affordable public education.

"I appreciate their effort to make it cheap, but they still have a long way to go," Russ said. "I think it's more a political tactic to say, 'Oh, hey we need to do this,' but I don’t know how well they actually are addressing the issue."

"They need to do a lot more," she continued. "The track that we're on right now ... is ridiculous."

Joel Kwon, a Utah native and U-M senior majoring in economics, said that by the time he graduates in May he will have amassed more than $40,000 in student loans. That debt, he said, pales in comparison to the debt many of his friends have accrued.

"It can be a burden to families," he said.

Mackenzie Cendrowski, a freshman from California, said that while the cost of tuition didn't deter her from choosing U-M, it's exactly that: a burden.

The university estimates it costs an out-of-state freshman and sophomore $50,352 to attend the university each year and $53,006 for upperclassmen.

"It's more than $200,000," Cendrowski said. "It's very expensive to go here. It's a little daunting."

Coleman said Monday that the university has attempted to keep cost increases sustainable, calling "our tuition increase modest." She noted that Penn State, the University of Illinois and the University of Minnesota all have in-state tuition rates higher than the U-M rate.

Yet as she outlined what she considers U-M's successes in reducing costs in the midst of state disinvestment —$400 million in administrative cost cuts largely due to employee benefit changes, the decrease in faculty positions funded through the school's general fund and a renewed emphasis on scholarship— Coleman acknowledged the difficulty high college costs places on students and their families.

"We’ve had to adjust to the reality of our situation," she said.

Kellie Woodhouse covers higher education for Reach her at or 734-623-4602 and follow her on twitter.



Wed, Jan 25, 2012 : 7:10 p.m.

Simply nauseating. Transparency? You bet. Political? You bet. First he speaks at 2010 commencement. Now in our athletic field house to stir up the younger (naive) vote. Both significant locations symbolizing "big", in his mind. This isn't about concern for the high costs for education. Such bold face deception on his re-election trail. Will Beverly Garrett be in attendance?


Wed, Jan 25, 2012 : 2:27 p.m.

It was a great speech, I do hope the President Mary Sue Coleman and the Regents of U of M pays attention to it. It seems like in every semester they keep raising the tuition and keep giving raise to themselves.


Wed, Jan 25, 2012 : 1:43 p.m.

Just another example of a "govt solution" exacerbating the problem. The availability of student loans has flooded colleges and universities with money, and caused tuition to skyrocket. Just another example of liberal policies creating a dependent underclass. Nothing to see here, move along.


Wed, Jan 25, 2012 : 2:42 p.m.

I'm having deja vu.

Geoff Larcom

Wed, Jan 25, 2012 : 1:12 p.m.

In the ongoing national and state discussion about college affordability, it is important to note that Eastern Michigan University president Susan Martin, the Board of Regents and EMU staff have worked very hard to reduce the tuition burden on Eastern's students and their families over the past three years. Under Martin's leadership, Eastern has decidedly not exploited the avenue of raising tuition in the wake of greatly decreased state funding. For the past three years, EMU has – by far – led the state of Michigan in tuition restraint. This included the 0-0-0 campaign for the academic year 2010-11, when EMU froze tuition, fees and housing costs. The past three years, Eastern's overall increase in tuition has averaged just 2.5 percent, the lowest increase in the state, and students are paying only $20 more per credit hour than 3 years ago. EMU students now pay the third lowest annual tuition among the state's 15 public universities, yet EMU has continued to invest in crucial academic facilities, such as the recent renovation of the Pray-Harrold classroom building, in which Eastern partnered with the state of Michigan. Note: Geoff Larcom, who worked as an editor and reporter for The Ann Arbor News for 25 years, is now executive director of media relations at Eastern Michigan University.


Wed, Jan 25, 2012 : 1:48 p.m.

Out on the recruiting trail eh Geoff?


Wed, Jan 25, 2012 : 12:50 p.m.

Has anyone ever considered attending a more affordable college? Prices would come down if demand decreased. It's like attending professional sporting events. If you go it means you support their lavish lifestyle at the expense of your own. I plan know, let's get the taxpayers to support this. Now all we need is more taxpayers to give their fair share.


Wed, Jan 25, 2012 : 11:04 a.m.

Hmmmm, the UM just agreed to pay two deans over $400,000 a year. One got a $100,000 increase! Gee, I wonder why college costs are so high?!!!


Wed, Jan 25, 2012 : 3:19 a.m.

Go home BO!


Wed, Jan 25, 2012 : 3:06 p.m.

Cinco The true Bo has a legacy that will stand. The imposter BO will have a legacy that will stink as bad as an outhouse in the summer!


Wed, Jan 25, 2012 : 2:42 p.m.

No he's not, but they are both great!


Wed, Jan 25, 2012 : 1:47 p.m.

I knew Bo and Barack is no Bo!

Stuart Brown

Wed, Jan 25, 2012 : 3:15 a.m.

The article said, "U-M President Mary Sue Coleman, who was invited to the forum but did not attend..." What's that? Mary Sue stood up the President of the US! This is an outrage and I am deeply offended that an in theory public official would be so arrogant as to do such a thing. What is she afraid of (a rhetorical question--it's obvious what the answer is)? Her stick simply will not stick and now she is letting us all know publicly that she has no good answers for why college costs are so outrageously high.


Wed, Jan 25, 2012 : 2:51 a.m.

In his State of The Union address, Mr. Obama asked for schools to keep costs down. I hope his staff does their research and asks Mary Sue Coleman why she saw fit to spend so much money on the executive staff. That is not cost control, that is waste and excess.

G. Orwell

Wed, Jan 25, 2012 : 2:13 a.m.

College education these days is designed to turn graduates into debt slaves for life. That is why tuition is allowed to far outpace inflation. Even as endowments hit record levels. And Obama is not going to do anything about it. Believe me. Next year you will see another 5-8% increase.


Wed, Jan 25, 2012 : 1:42 p.m.

Just another example of a "govt solution" exacerbating the problem. The availability of student loans has flooded colleges and universities with money, and caused tuition to skyrocket. Just another example of liberal policies creating a dependent underclass. Nothing to see here, move along.


Wed, Jan 25, 2012 : 1:59 a.m.

I guess it all depends how one defines "FREEDOM"

G. Orwell

Wed, Jan 25, 2012 : 1:57 a.m.

Talk is dirt cheap. Let's see some action! Don't just help the rich with the bailouts, help the middle class and the poor. Obama also said he would veto the 2012 NDAA bill that allows him to use the military to detain U.S. citizens and hold them indefinitely without a trial or even being charged of a crime. Tells you what he thinks of the people of this country. Then he signed the bill into law on New Year's Eve when everyone wasn't paying attention. We now have a president with dictatorial powers to arrest and kill anyone he wishes. I am glad Chris Hedges is suing him to repeal this tyrannical and unconstitutional law. Ron Paul is also working to have this portion of the bill repealed. If people were not aware of what the 2012 NDAA bill contained, you can thank the MSMs and NPR for hiding it from you. They do not want you to know that you are sheep being led to slaughter.


Wed, Jan 25, 2012 : 1:41 a.m.

Free college education for all illegal aliens, er uh I mean undocumented immigrants. /sarcasm off


Fri, Jan 27, 2012 : 6:25 a.m.

Interesting article (for what it is), but I still don't see where it says undocumented immigrants are receiving free tuition or Medicare! It does outline a program aimed at reimbursing doctors and hospitals for Emergency medical care for those brave enough to come in for it. It also talks about how many will not come in for fear of being asked for papers --- and the community health risk that poses. We have motivated, hard-working people here who want to be legal, tax-paying citizens. I don't have the answer, because as a parent it is ingrained in me not to reinforce "bad behavior" with rewards, but we have a bad situation that has to be addressed. There is not an easy, black and white, solution to this problem. It it going to take some creative, flexible, thoughtful consideration. There is no way you can round everyone up and send them away. It is not beneficial nor cost effective. On the other hand, you do not want to reward people for breaking laws. I would think a two-prong approach would be a start. One - figuring out how to get people here legally in a way that benefits us (as well as them). Two - figuring out how to legalize and make the most of the people who are already here.

G. Orwell

Wed, Jan 25, 2012 : 5:23 p.m.

@Cinco NY Times <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> I am all for legal immigration as our laws provide. Illegals will be used as pawns when the time comes.


Wed, Jan 25, 2012 : 2:04 p.m.

Is that true? Do they get Medicare? Do they get free tuition? That is not what I am seeing.... Mostly what I see are undocumented immigrants staying under the radar and taking care of themselves. Although they would prefer to be able to go to college, get a tax paying job, and partake in all of our other American pursuits.

G. Orwell

Wed, Jan 25, 2012 : 2:05 a.m.

The illegals are given free tuition or in-state tuition, Medicare, and pay no taxes because the Democrats are using them for political purposes. Who do you think the millions of illegals, now given amnesty, will vote for? These people will do everything they are told to do. There is an agenda.

Top Cat

Wed, Jan 25, 2012 : 12:50 a.m.

Obama should start by asking Mary Sue why she make so much more than he does.


Wed, Jan 25, 2012 : 1:57 p.m.

I feel like that is a question he could ask. Would be nice to be there when he did it.


Wed, Jan 25, 2012 : 12:12 a.m.

Rather than coming at the issue from the perspective of more available student loans and grants, why doesn't he ask why the cost of a college education has outpaced the rate of inflation 10 fold?

The Black Stallion3

Tue, Jan 24, 2012 : 10:58 p.m.

Obama is full of promises...If you vote for him....but he has a hard time keeping his word.....time for someone new to occupy the white house.

G. Orwell

Wed, Jan 25, 2012 : 1:42 p.m.

Ron Paul is the only candidate with any honesty and integrity. The only anti-war candidate. He will not bow to the military-industrial-complex.


Wed, Jan 25, 2012 : 11 a.m.

Great idea, BS3. Gingrich? You've got to be kidding!


Wed, Jan 25, 2012 : 5:36 a.m.

Dont they all have problems keeping their promises?


Tue, Jan 24, 2012 : 9:29 p.m.

He ought to find a career covering Al Green ballads.... We'd all be better off.


Tue, Jan 24, 2012 : 9:14 p.m.

Panderer in Chief (chief panderer)


Tue, Jan 24, 2012 : 9:09 p.m.

Affordability starts with the adminstration and faculty being overcompensated. The higher education bubble is breaking and All Obama's horses and men cannot stop it with words. <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> OCCUPY THE LECTURE HALL!

John Agno

Tue, Jan 24, 2012 : 8:47 p.m.

A Georgetown University study of the class of 2010 at the country's 193 most selective colleges found that as entering freshmen, only 15 percent of students came from the bottom half of the income distribution. Sixty-seven percent came from the highest-earning fourth of the distribution. These statistics mean that on many campuses affluent students outnumber middle-class students. For all of the ways that top colleges have become diverse, their student bodies remain shockingly affluent. At the University of Michigan, more entering freshmen in 2003 came from families earning at least $200,000 a year than came from the entire bottom half of the income distribution. At some private colleges, the numbers were even more extreme. The truth is that many of the most capable low and middle-income students attend community colleges or less selective four-year colleges close to their home. Doing so makes them less likely to graduate from college at all, research has shown. Incredibly, only 44 percent of low-income high school seniors with high standardized test scores enroll in a four-year college, according to a Century Foundation report — compared with about 50 percent of high-income seniors who have average test scores. Several years ago, William Bowen, a former president of Princeton, and two other researchers found that top colleges gave no admissions advantage to low-income students, despite claims to the contrary. Children of alumni received an advantage. Minorities (except Asians) and athletes received an even bigger advantage. But all else equal, a low-income applicant was no more likely to get in than a high-income applicant with the same SAT score. It's pretty hard to call that meritocracy. Is Higher Education Too Expensive for the Middle Class?


Wed, Jan 25, 2012 : 2:23 p.m.

It is high. Probably too high. On the other hand, I see the apartments that (some of) these students are living in. I see that so many of them have their own vehicles. It is clear that either some of the debt is going toward financing these items, or, that they come from very affluent families. I see many, many organizations charging outrageous amounts because there are these wealthy that can and will pay it. Since there are the affluent that can afford to pay it, businesses charge it. This information given above is interesting. I have never heard that going to a community college makes a student less likely to graduate from college at all. Is that a reflection of the overall student body? I also did not know that top colleges claimed to give admission advantages to low-income students. We've been *wondering* how our student ever got into UofM....... By living in our basement, taking a bus into campus everyday, working a part-time job and completing the first two years at the community college our student will graduate from UofM with about $20,000 in debt. IF he gets a &quot;real&quot; job after graduation - and they are hiring young, recent graduates in his field - then that should be manageable. I'm a little bit worried about your pessimistic statement about going to a community college, because in Ann Arbor I think that is the number one best route to take. I would hate to see others steered away from it. It is practical, it tests responsibility, it is affordable, and it greatly decreases the cost of a UofM degree.


Wed, Jan 25, 2012 : 2:49 a.m.

yes, it is.


Tue, Jan 24, 2012 : 8:30 p.m.

The &quot;Affordability Theme&quot; should be the topic of the election: Can we afford four more years of President Obama?


Wed, Jan 25, 2012 : 1:32 p.m.

What are our choices........


Wed, Jan 25, 2012 : 12:10 a.m.

Yes I'm glad you asked.Go President Obama!


Tue, Jan 24, 2012 : 8:29 p.m.

It's great to see President Obama in town, but isn't college funding largely a state issue? What can the federal government do to lower tuition costs, other than changing the terms of student loans? It seems leading a conference with our leaders in Lansing is more likely to bring us closer to a solution. House Democrats have submitted a bill that offers a $9500 tuition credit, financed by closing business tax loopholes. The Republicans, who have had no problem minimizing tax credits and exemptions for individuals, have yet to offer a position or a proposal. Meanwhile, the state surplus grows. So, what say you Governor Snyder? Are college graduates an essential part of Michigan 3.0?


Tue, Jan 24, 2012 : 9:33 p.m.

Not anymore than I believe our State Republican leaders care about tuition affordability. But what I believe isn't the issue. The issue is: Does the Governor and his fellow Republicans care about returning Michigan to long term economic growth? Or do they just care about increasing corporate profits at the expense of schools and individuals?


Tue, Jan 24, 2012 : 8:43 p.m.

CC, do you really believe that either side is interested in closing tax loopholes? Both have been in charge of both houses and the Governors mansion in the past 20 - 30 years. Each has had a chance to &quot;close&quot; loopholes. How do you think these loopholes were created in the first place?


Tue, Jan 24, 2012 : 8:20 p.m.

One student quoted $20,000 and another $40,000 in loans upon graduation. That's like buying a car. Only difference is, they are investing in their own future and future earning power. My sympathy is reserved for those who cannot even think about securing a college education or a decent job. They have no hope of competing for with all of the college grads. With our economy, they can't even count on a decent job in the trades anymore. Sometimes the military is the only answer for them.


Tue, Jan 24, 2012 : 8:09 p.m.

Will Obama have the courage to explain to all of these students that they will be paying for all of the others that follow them, for the rest of their lives? Why does anyone think this is somehow &quot;free?&quot;