State higher education investment in the Midwest: Michigan’s stark reality

Michigan on map in red
Back to News

State higher education investment in the Midwest: Michigan’s stark reality

In Financial Aid by Dan Hurley December 6, 2019

Seldom are reports published that so clearly and concisely illustrate just how much of an aberration Michigan is when it comes to ensuring college affordability for its residents. The release by The Century Foundation of its latest report on Michigan college affordability represents such a moment. This latest report marks the second in a three-part series; the first, released in September, was titled Michigan’s College Affordability Crisis.

The foundation’s latest report, Michigan’s College Affordability in a Regional Context, shows where Michigan stands on a number of college access and affordability metrics, with special attention to state funding for higher education. It contrasts Michigan with our neighboring states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. It strongly illustrates the inadequate state investment in higher education in Michigan compared to the state’s Midwest peers. It also shows the commitment the state universities are making to need-based financial aid and college affordability for low-income students.

Here are some selected statistics from the report:

Metric Michigan National Comparative Context
State higher education spending as a share of state budget 4.2% 10.1% National rank: 41st


Regional rank: 3rd lowest

State higher education operating support per public college/university student $4,656 $5,827 Regional rank: 2nd lowest
Total state grant aid at public colleges/universities $78,260,154 $18.2B Regional rank: Lowest
State grant aid per public college/university student


Michigan provides the least grant aid in any of the six states: Wisconsin offers twice as much, Illinois three times as much, Minnesota four times as much, and Indiana more than five times as much.









Regional rank: Lowest




Poverty rate 14.2% 13.4% Regional rank: Highest
Percent of students receiving Pell Grants at public colleges/universities 25.5% 25.3% Regional rank: Highest
Institutional aid per student at colleges/universities $2,849 $1,590 Regional rank: Highest
Percent of Bachelor’s degree graduates from public universities who borrowed via federal student loans 58% 52% Regional rank: 3rd lowest
Average debt burden among Bachelor’s degree graduates of public universities $24,895 $21,919 Regional rank: Highest

Given that human talent is the most important currency in today’s global economy, the data featured in this report do not exactly make for a good sales pitch in the state’s efforts to attract and retain businesses, let alone woo young professionals and families to the state.

While it should be acknowledged that state funding for higher education has taken a hit throughout the nation since the turn of the century, this report shows just how much of an aberration Michigan is in making higher education a state priority. In the U.S., despite funding cuts, public higher education is still primarily a publicly-financed, public good. In Michigan, as reflected in this Century Foundation report, higher education is largely a privately-financed consumer good. And as a result, we are paying a dear price: educationally, economically, civically, socially, and culturally.

Surely we can do better. And must do better—if we are to change Michigan’s trajectory.

Daniel J. Hurley is the Chief Executive Officer at the Michigan Association of State Universities

@Daniel_J_Hurley     @MASUmichigan