Tuition hike forces students to find ways to save money; some will leave
Alex Erebor, a 21-year-old psychology major from Southfield, said he's already struggling to stay at UDM, and the announcement that the university will be raising undergraduate tuition by 6.25 percent isn't helping.
"I'm not looking forward to it," he said. "It's already eaten into my financial situation enough."
Erebor said he was forced to move off campus after three years of living in Holden Hall because he couldn't afford it. He was awarded scholarships and grants, has taken out multiple loans, works 10-12 hours per week in the work-study program and has a weekend job at Target-but it's still not enough, he said.
He estimates he's in debt roughly $3,700 this year and said having to move back in with his parents was tough.
"I was upset," he said. "I got so used to being here. It's funny because I see signs that say how good it is to stay on campus but how can you when the cost is so high?"
Erebor's reaction is typical among students learning of the 2012-13 hike, which was recently approved by the college board of trustees.
The board's action will raise undergraduate tuition from $830 per credit hour to $880, with a per-semester cost of $17,265 for students taking 12-18 credit hours.
According to UDM President Dr. Antoine Garibaldi, the increase was unavoidable.
"The 6.25 percent increase was decided after presentations to the president's council, conversations with the deans and recommendations to the finance committee of the board of trustees," he said. "Looking at the financial picture for next year, there was no way we could have had a tuition increase of anything less than six percent."
Kimberly Richardson, assistant director of financial aid, said that more often than not the financial aid office is able to help students. But it's up to the students to take the initiative.
"When they start here we want them to finish here," she said. "The financial aid office is very customizable when you get students in the door."
Denise Williams Mallett, vice president for enrollment management and student affairs, said she's seen more and more students coming to her with financial troubles.
The weak economy isn't helping.
"In the last five years, more students have been engaged in the financial component," she said.
Mallett has worked at UDM for 10 years and said that her biggest challenge is shattering "the myth" that UDM isn't affordable.
On paper, the raw data shows UDM is more expensive than nearby institutions.
Marygrove College's undergraduate tuition costs roughly half of UDM's. A student taking 12-18 credit hours pays $8,820 there. Oakland University charges $7,954 per semester; Wayne State, $7,929, according to a list compiled by Wayne State.
But, Mallett said, UDM isn't far from those numbers when other factors are considered.
"Our freshman class's tuition is discounted by 58 percent after scholarships," she said. "Overall the discount is about 44 percent. That's something we're very proud of. When you take that into consideration, we're competitive."
But not competitive enough for Ariel Skellett. The 20-year-old sophomore from Flint is in the pre-physician's assistant program. She said she will be taking her last classes at UDM later this month and transferring to the University of Michigan-Flint next year.
Skellett, who was Most Valuable Player on UDM's fencing team this season, said she's in debt about $45,000 from her two years at Detroit despite academic scholarships and money from the athletic department that pays for books.
She has a simple question.
"I wonder why it's this much to begin with," she said. "I want to know where my money's going."
According to Garibaldi, the answer is complex.
"It's hard to say what percentage of that goes to infrastructure costs, sitting in a classroom, overhead utilities or things like that," he said. "It gets to be a little more complicated when you break it down into pieces like that."
The president said that earlier decisions regarding faculty raises, personnel costs and the student fitness center all factor into the increase.
Of the fitness center, under construction now, he said it was "a long-term expense that, while we borrowed money for loans, is certainly something we need to pay off."
Isaiah Lewis, a senior business major who transferred from Jackson Community College after his freshman year, said he doesn't think it's fair his money is going to something he can't use.
"We didn't ask for (the fitness center)," he said. "Raise the money with fundraisers. Don't put the burden on us for something we won't be here to enjoy. It's the easy way out."
While Garibaldi said one of the long-term goals of his strategic plan is to improve fundraising efforts and increase the university's modest $25-million endowment, Lewis, who graduates in May, said something needs to be done for students now.
"When people graduate, they don't want to work to pay other people off," he said. "It comes at too high of a price. It takes a college degree these days to be credible so you have no choice but to get one. Colleges put more people in debt than credit card companies."
Still, Lewis said he understands those in charge "don't really have a choice" in the matter.
That's a sentiment Garibaldi expressed in regards to tuition, but promised changes starting in 2013-14.
"I come from the old school that you should try to keep increases as low as possible, but I couldn't do that this year. That's just a fact," he said. "The focus going forward is to bring tuition increases down so we're not as high as six percent."
In the meantime, Garibaldi said concerned students should continue talking with financial aid.
"I find when talking with students that sometimes they haven't exhausted all possibilities," he said. "They may not know of certain scholarships that are available to them."
Despite his disappointment over the high prices, Lewis said he's not upset at his decision to attend UDM.
"It's a nice school," he said. "The education is good and it's a credible college. You get nothing in life for free. If you want something good it will come at a high price."
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