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How can Michigan improve college access and affordability?

Sep 25, 2015

Credit COD Newsroom / Flickr Creative Commons

The Center for Michigan’s latest report on improving career navigation and college affordability has received a lot of attention, and rightfully so. Student debt is an issue that is on a lot of people's minds; from the university admissions office, to the family dinner table and even on the presidential campaign trail.

Four in five Michigan residents say that improving college affordability isn't just a suggestion, but an urgent priority for the state.

When you consider that Michigan's students leave college with some of the highest debt levels in the nation, an average of over $35,000, you can understand the urgency. 

As a recent college grad, student debt is a problem I'm all too familiar with. Though various repayment options and loan forgiveness programs exist, they're far from an ideal solution.

Take the "standard" repayment option. Out of all the options the federal government offers, this one involves the least amount of interest.

If I were to select the standard plan to pay off my student loan debt, my monthly payment would be more than double my monthly rent. Even if the standard option was feasible (which it definitely isn't), it would still take me over 10 years to pay off the amount I owe.

This brings me to ponder the question many Michiganders are asking: is a college education really worth the cost? From the Center for Michigan's report: 

“When it comes to college education, Michigan residents say they face a conundrum. They firmly believe that earning a college degree or other advanced training beyond high school is very important to prospering in today’s economy. Yet ever-rising tuition now leaves many questioning whether the costs of college actually pay off in the long run.”

Some students are choosing community college over university, just to save on cost. Others choose not to go altogether. Many grads end up working two, maybe three jobs just to make their student loan payment each month. Increasingly, more people are unable to pay back the amount they borrowed.

The report featured several public-proposed solutions to improve college affordability and upward mobility, such as: 

  • Require college and career advisers in every high school
  • Require those counselors to be certified on college choice, financial aid, and career counseling
  • Add new high school classes that help students make better choices when it comes to college, training, and career
  • Hold colleges more accountable for career guidance and job placement
  • Connect more young people with opportunities to gain work experience, like through paid internships
  • Offer "re-training" scholarships for adults
  • Increase state government funding for public colleges and universities
  • Require campuses to become more cost efficient 

How do YOU think Michigan should solve its college affordability problem? Please join us for a State of Opportunity Issues & Ale event to discuss these ideas and more on Tuesday, October 6th at One Well Brewing in Kalamazoo.

Issues & Ale is an event series from Michigan Radio designed to engage people in conversations about important issues facing Michigan in an informal atmosphere. Stop by, have a drink, and join in the conversation. Admission is free and you can register here

If you can't make it but still have a question or something to add to the conversation, let us know in the comment section below (or on social media!) and we will be sure to mention it.