Pictured above is a building at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

“An uncommon education for the common man” has been the rallying cry of the University of Michigan campus and administration for the last 140 years. However, Michigan faces challenges to its “common man” identity in the modern age: elitism.

Rising tuition costs and living expenses have put university education out of reach for low-income families like never before, and Michigan’s administration can’t seem to escape their “elitist” label according to an in-depth report from Politico. It has become such a problem that a recent pledge was made, offering free tuition to any student whose family makes less than $65,000 annually; however, the offer may not be as effective as initially thought.

The University of Michigan used to be a place where farmers and factory workers could send their kids for a higher education. However, after deep education budget cuts at the state and national level over the past generation, the University of Michigan and other American colleges have raised the cost of a college education to cosmic heights, heavily impacting middle-class and lower-class American families.

After announcing a low-income free tuition program, the last thing that the University expected was resistance or lack of participation. Hundreds of thousands of families living in Michigan qualify for free tuition at the University, but the program has only seen minor success so far.

It’s a problem that won’t go away. According to Politico, only 16 percent of the students at the University of Michigan come from families in the bottom 60 percent of income earners. Conversely, the top 1 percent fills a tenth of the seats in the lecture halls there (assuming they all go to class).

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With such low numbers of low-income students, the policy cannot be applied as widely as expected. But why?

Out-of-state enrollment and selective admission programs are a major culprit. Since the 1990s, many universities and colleges targeted high-income students. These high-income students often come from private education backgrounds. Private high schools are fueled by tuition and can often pay for top-class teachers. In comparison, public schools are left with state or federal funding, and often cannot attract the best teaching talent with the same success as a private organization.

Furthermore, reliance on standardized test scores bolsters the theory that the admissions standards favor students from high-income backgrounds. Generally, students from high-income backgrounds tend to score higher on standardized tests such as the SAT and ACT.

Theoretically, as public colleges and universities began targeting these high-income students, their admissions standards and minimum grade requirements likely rose along with it. Given the potential gap in educational opportunities between income brackets, these admission requirements could be a barricade to the group of low-income and middle-class families looking for a University of Michigan education in the years to come.

image copyright © Jason Crotty