EDITORIAL: The price is right … is it?

As we return on campus this semester, changes from the summer loom over us. Whether it is the memories we have made or lessons we have learned, we all share a common change. 

On June 29, the Friday before the Fourth of July, Central Michigan University announced a tuition, housing, food and parking permit price increase in an email to its students. That was after a Board of Trustees meeting the same day where the increases were  voted on and approved without a public hearing. 

In the email, it is stated these changes were made to “adjust our rates to ensure we continue to offer the exceptional learning and living experiences our students expect and deserve.” 

Inflation rates have increased since the pandemic, and according to the email, CMU had not aligned its prices last year to adjust to the rates sooner. 

For the 2022 to 2023 fiscal year, CMU increased its lower-level undergraduate tuition rates by 3.53%, according to last year’s budget

According to the United States Labor Statistics Bureau, the Consumer Price Index had increased by almost 10% in Michigan that year. In June of 2023, the CPI declined to 4.7%. CMU increased its lower-level undergraduate tuition rates by 4.09% this year, which is still below the CPI inflation rate. 

On June 28, the day before the CMU board voted, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued a press release about the “Make it in Michigan” budget plan. Within this plan, a 5% ongoing increase was given to advance university and community college operations. 

Aside from the 5% increase for college operations, an additional 50 million dollars was awarded towards students receiving the Michigan Achievement Scholarship in order to improve college affordability.  

“The Make it in Michigan budget will build a bright future for our state,” Whitmer said. “It lowers costs on health care, preschool, meals for kids, higher education, housing and workforce training.”

The budget “… prioritizes funding for Michigan’s students, schools, public health, natural resources, and communities,” State Budget Director Christopher Harkins said in the press release.

The Michigan budget is referred to as FY24 and it totals to $81.7 billion. About $19.4 billion is going toward a School Aid Fund. CMU’s fiscal budget this year is $434.5 million after receiving $91 million from the state and cutting $272,361 from the general funds, Central Michigan Life previously reported

CMU’s 2023-2024 tuition for in-state residents that are in-coming freshman stands at $13,740, whereas continuing students is $14,790 and international students totals $24,750. Out of Michigan’s 15 public universities, only Northern Michigan University at $13,304 and Saginaw Valley State University at $11,230 beat this price. 

Besides increased expenditures for students, the Board of Trustees approved a faculty and staff salary increase of 2.125%, which falls short of the 4% inflation rate. 

CM Life reports on behalf of students to inform and address issues, changes and events that directly impact students within the CMU community. However, we are students as well. These changes impact us all. 

One of the topics our staff discussed included communication. 

The only email that was sent to students regarding the tuition increase was sent right before a holiday when most are on vacation. Additionally, if a student is not taking summer classes, they are less likely to check their student email. There have also been instances with campus-wide announcements, that some students never receive the email. 

CMU President Bob Davies shared when it comes to the budgeting process, there are ”extensive meetings” held, including a budget priorities committee discussing various options throughout the year. 

“(The budgeting process) is not done in a vacuum, it's not done in my office by myself and one other person; it involves a lot of individuals providing their collective thought,” he said. 

Although the committee consists of many individuals across campus, students were not included in the conversation. 

When asked if the university’s budgeting process is transparent and fair, President Davies said yes. 

“What we try to do is ... think about how we bring in revenues and how we spend those revenues to support the students and support the faculty and staff and their mission,” he said.

It was common among us all to say these changes made us nervous for the future and how students will be able to continue to afford our time spent at CMU.

Looking at the price tag for tuition, first-year and lower-level domestic undergraduate tuition rates for those who have earned less than 56 credit hours are paying an additional $18 per credit hour. For U.S. residents, it is now $458 per credit hour, and for international students it is $825 per hour.

Upper-level, domestic undergraduate students taking 56 credit hours or more have increased by $24 per credit hour. For U.S. residents, it is now $498 per credit hour and for international students it is $875 per hour. 

This impacts graduate students as well, depending on what degree they are pursuing. Master’s and specialist degrees are seeing a $32 increase, totaling $758 per credit hour and a $30 increase for doctoral students, meaning an $858 per-hour rate. 

The student body at CMU consists of students from different backgrounds, with and without privileges. Some of us receive help from scholarships and family to fund our education, whereas others are completely on their own. 

Students with scholarships or that work as Residential Assistants are also worried about whether they will no longer have certain funds covered that they previously did. With the tuition rates, meal plans and housing prices increasing, do scholarships as well?  

According to CMU, this year the university is committing $55.4 million in financial aid, with nearly 80% of all undergraduate students receiving scholarships and grants. 

Students in their freshman and sophomore years are required to live in residential dorms on campus and have meal plans. For certain dorms, there can be an expected $250 to $325 rate increase to the ranging price of $2,400 to $4,000. 

All meal plans are increasing about $204 each: Now they range from $2,600 to $3,058. 

Although there is usually at least a market or a dining hall open seven days a week, the South Community dining hall, Merrill Virtual Food Hall, is closed Fridays to Sundays and The Eatery at Towers is closed every Saturday and open until only 2 p.m. on Fridays. 

This is mainly because of being understaffed and may not pose as a serious issue to most people, but to students living in these communities being forced to pay even more for their meal plans when the most convenient dining hall to them is closed on weekends, it does not seem like a fair trade. 

And that is not even mentioning the continuous complaints students have had about the food for the last few years. 

As for the online parking permits, the $15 increase impacts students differently. For students living on campus, the permit is now $165. For graduate students living on campus, commuters and students living in the Northwest Apartments, it is now $190. Faculty and staff permits are $200, and senior officers are required to pay $215. 

Although parking permits have gotten more expensive, students are still required to park only in designated areas depending on their year and whether they live on or off campus. In some of these areas, students are required to use a parking meter, which is now $1 per 30 minutes instead of 50 cents. 

The majority of students have a job, whether it is on or off-campus, in order to support themselves. However, there are very limited job opportunities on campus besides work- study. 

Even then, work-study jobs do not allow a student to work under the same department as their major and they need to have a Free Application for Financial Aid (FAFSA) approved. That makes it so international students are ineligible for work study, when it is mainly freshman and international students that have the hardest time finding jobs on campus. 

International students’ visa restricts them from working off-campus during the school year. Additionally, before coming to America they must have an I-20 form filled out with their fixed expenses. Meaning, the tuition increase being announced in the midst of summer does not give international students any leeway to fix their I-20 documentation to include the new added expenses. 

The tuition increase is requiring students to prioritize certain expenditures and cut those that are not necessary. Which is a great learning opportunity, except for when you have to start cutting out student organizations and your social life just so you can afford to attend college. 

Students’ schedules are filled with classes, studying, homework, maintaining a job, being a part of an RSO and somehow fitting in a social life, while also seeking other opportunities to earn money.  

On top of balancing life as a student, the university limits on-campus work hours to 20 hours a week during the school year, and to 40 hours a week for the summer. If students go over their hours, they receive one warning over email that the next time they do so, they will be fired from all of their CMU jobs. 

Students working 20 hours a week for $10 an hour, they receive about $400 every two weeks, and barely that with taxes taken off. 

Furthermore, students are usually working over the 20 hour period, but are just not counting their hours (and not receiving that pay) in hopes to not get fired by the university. But still doing the same amount of work as a full-time employee. 

To put it into perspective, students are paid 8 pay-periods throughout the 16 weeks within a semester. Without including taxes, students receive about $3,200 in total for the semester they worked on-campus. That does not even cover almost half of one semester of tuition at CMU, which ranges between $5,496 to $12,375 for both in-state and international students. 

No individual could ever live off this pay while accounting for tuition, housing, meal plans and any added funds going towards daily or social life experiences. 

However, if there was an exception where students can work up to 40 hours a week if needed, that would provide about $800 every two weeks. This allows more room for saving while also leaving a little space for daily expenses. Then, students can spend more time on campus, rather than having to worry about having a flexible, off-campus job.  

It is frustrating for students to be limited to certain hours when they need more money, and then are forced to take on several jobs at a time just to afford an education. It is especially frustrating when we are the ones penalized and told we will be fired from all of our CMU jobs if you work even an hour over the limit. 

CMU offers so many incredible experiences with its academics and on-campus events, but it is hard for students to enjoy those when they are focused more on how they are going to afford getting through the week, let alone the years ahead. 

Several students we talked to have said they really hope it is worth it in the end. For right now, with the experiences we’ve shared on campus and the communities we have built, it is worth it. But as student loans pile on and the tuition rates increase, it is hard to feel very hopeful towards the future. 

For the 2023-2024 school year, the operation budget was approved for $434.5 million, whereas last year’s was $434.7 million. This means there was a budget cut across campus for certain expenditures to be able to offer the same services that was provided in the previous years. However, students are the ones to pay this cost. 

CMU stated in its email that even with these changes, the university continues to offer below the average of Michigan’s 15 public universities. It included how nearly 94% of CMU alumni are employed or entering a service program within six months of graduation. 

This feels like a way to justify the tuition increase. This is now becoming the bare minimum of expectations, and if it is not achieved, then it is hard for students to feel it is a beneficial price to pay. 

It is becoming less achievable to graduate, even though it is incredibly beneficial to do so. But it is getting harder to see beyond graduation without the debt. It is more likely students will have to work jobs they potentially could have gotten without a degree just so they can support themselves while being in debt. 

CM Life staff was asked if they could redo their first two years at CMU at a community college instead, would they? Most students said no because of the positive experience we have shared on campus as well as the appeal of living away from home. Additionally, there are certain perquisites for majors that have to be met early on for graduation. 

Overall, attending CMU, especially after the pandemic, has been incredibly worth it. But as the price tag continues to grow, job searches and doubt in students’ hearts follows. 

The email to students concluded with references to CMU’s OneCentral team to discuss how the rate changes will directly impact individual students, as well as provided links to the FAFSA application and scholarships. 

If students are interested in earning money while attending classes, the email said, contact CMU Student Employment Services to learn about available on-campus jobs. 

But, for students that are able, you may need to look off-campus as well. 

The next board of trustees meeting is Sept. 29. Although there is no public hearing, there will be time for public comment. 

CM Life encourages students that wish for their voices to be heard to take advantage of the platforms that will allow you to do so — and continuously seek those opportunities or bring them to the table. 

We offer a platform for all students, including ourselves. Each of us has found a home at CMU, whether it is in others or in student organizations. Let us not allow a price tag to discourage our love for the university. Let us work together to make it a functioning and welcoming home for everyone.