How much longer can U-M remain an elite institution?

Submitted by on July 25th, 2010 at 4:40 PM

Just thought I'd throw this out for discussion as I avoid getting heat stroke in my apt...

With a massive brain drain in the state of Michigan, and the US population's gradual migration south and west, is Michigan in a good position to remain one of the top public universities in the country?

We have seen M slide a spot or so every year in US News rankings, and Mary Sue is admitting record freshman classes every year to offset the decrease in state funding.  How can the university avoid sliding with the entire Midwest?  Should we go private or find alternative tuition structures to attract the best out-of-state students?

In 50 years, I see Texas and Florida becoming the top public universities along with Berkeley and UCLA due to population shift and job opportunities, unless Michigan is able to invest in something besides autos.


winged helmet

July 25th, 2010 at 8:52 PM ^


Albeit University rankings are probably more subjective than the number of stars given to a recruit, I think these still have some substance. Times Higher Education, based out of London, comes out with yearly rankings of the top 200 universities in the world. Clearly, 

'07: #38

'08: #18

'09: #19

2010 is not out yet. 

I believe the past two years we have also been the top public university in the world. We are also ranked as the 12th best American University. this was all after a 20 position jump in '08. I'm not seeing a correlation between population shift and our academic prominence, mr. OP.

Oh, and have you seen our world-class research hospital? They saved my life this year. In my book, UM is doing damn good.


July 25th, 2010 at 4:46 PM ^

Not sure I follow your correlation between the population shift and UM's status as an academic institution. I am pretty sure that a state's population doesn't have any bearing on the prestige associated with it's college degree.


July 25th, 2010 at 5:06 PM ^

your premise is that because there is a population shift to the south, UM will fall from elite university status.

You know, once there was a brain drain in Germany too, but now they're one of the top nations for Engineers to work. Everything is temporary, friend, except U of M, which is forever. Texas will see its own Michigan drain someday. I guarentee it. And Michigan will see its own Texas like growth once again.


July 25th, 2010 at 5:26 PM ^

And Michigan will see its own Texas like growth once again.

Agreed, the syrup industry has to dry up sooner or later, then those Canadian bastards will be flocking across the border like Spartans to a SuperMax




July 25th, 2010 at 5:21 PM ^

I do not know if your 65% figure is correct, but if it is I am sure it is an undergrad number only. When you consider all the sources of funding for a school like UofM, including graduate education and grants (UofM receives close to $1 billion in grant money each year), the gradual shift in population to the sun belt is not going to matter that much. And all they would have to do to solve the problem is slightly lower the 65% in-state requirement to accommodate the relative decline in the state's population.

The bigger issue is the decline of the auto industry. The state needs to do a much better job of attracting new industries to replace what it is losing each year. Otherwise, Detroit might eventually just be a much larger version of Flint. That would not be good for UofM.


July 25th, 2010 at 7:42 PM ^

Doesn't a high out-of-state percentage just mean we're good enough to draw top-tier students from everywhere? Michigan isn't just the best option for the top kids in the state (as is the case with most good state universities) but is instead competing against high-end private schools for the entire country's (and in many cases, world's) best students.

Plus all that out-of-state tuition makes in-state tuition cheaper ;)


July 25th, 2010 at 7:46 PM ^

Plus all that out-of-state tuition makes in-state tuition cheaper

That's not how it works. Taxes paid by your parents toward the state is why in-state tuition stays lower. The state gives your family a break for paying taxes all those years, hoping you'll stay in state to get your education, and hopefully continue to live in the state and continue to pay it's state taxes.

With the rate out-of-state tuition keeps climbing at UM, it will start driving some of that out-of-state population away.


July 25th, 2010 at 9:51 PM ^

Taxes paid by parents to the state of Michigan as the basis for reduced tuition for in-staters has largely become a fiction.  Simply put, most families don't come close to paying sufficient taxes to cover the real cost of education.  

As you noted, there is no way that tuition for OOS students can continue to climb as rapidly as it has and not drive away potential applicants.  What would seem to make sense and be considerably more equitable would be to have a sliding tuition scale based on need, not geography.  In the case of Michigan, this makes good sense due to the fact that a substantial percentage of money received by the school comes from private sources and that the state's contribution becomes less and less each year.


July 26th, 2010 at 9:56 AM ^

Honest query: Are the tax dollars paid by the state based on the number of in-state students at the school? I didn't think it was like K-12, where a school gets x-dollars per student, but could very well be wrong.

If it's not student based and is a lump sum, it does seem like in-state tuition would go up if there were fewer out-of-state students - the same amount of state funding would have to subsidize a larger number of students.

Feat of Clay

July 26th, 2010 at 10:05 AM ^

No.  The state has toyed with formula funding but it's never really stuck.  Universities typically get a figure based on what they got last year, with a percentage increase (or decrease, as it's been lately).  The state and house fiscal agencies calculate an "appropriations per student" after the fact, but it isn't really used for funding purposes, except to make sure no university falls below a certain floor.  The state recognizes that educating a student at U-M or Michigan Tech (& etc) is more expensive than education one at, say, Ferris State, and therefore the $$ per student works our to be more at the former two places.

The state does not include % of residents in the funding equation, either.  They grumble up in Lansing about it, but the reality is that the nonresidents help give U-M a great national & international reputation.  And although it may give the other 14 public institutions schadenfreudeistic pleasure when some legislator goes off on U-M admissing nonresidents, they don't actually want that to change.  Because if U-M starts admitting more residents, it's going to be skimming the cream right off the top of every other institution in the state.  Some years there have actually been hard ceilings set into the appropriations bill, as to the percentage of nonresident undergrads (i.e. 35%), but not lately.


July 25th, 2010 at 11:57 PM ^

I agree that it means we are good enough to draw top-tier students from everywhere, which is quite impressive.  However, there are too many qualified in-state kids who aren't getting accepted.  Maybe it is because the university wants the out-of-state tuition. 


July 26th, 2010 at 9:31 AM ^

It's significantly more difficult to get admitted into the University as an out-of-stater than as an in-stater, so I think that this is likely. If U-M eliminated any sort of quota or minimum for in-state students, you would see a much larger population of students from outside of the state. But as a public University there is an obligation to serve the state, so we probably won't see this anytime soon.


Things seem to be in a pretty good balance right now so I doubt that Mary Sue is going to make a push in either direction.


July 26th, 2010 at 9:40 AM ^

When the top-tier University in a state becomes more selective, it drives a lot of strong students to the second-best school and improves its reputation and value of the degree. This is happening in my home state to U-Illinois and Illinois State, and it will probably happen in this state with MSU. So it's not like in-staters are totally SOL -- as much as we like to make fun of little brother, an MSU degree is still worth more than 80-95% of college degrees in this country.


(edit) I had more stuff written down here, but it was kind of a non sequitor so I'll just toss it


July 25th, 2010 at 11:00 PM ^

In-stater recent grad here. 


Yes, the 65% in-state is correct, and it is well lower than almost all other public schools in the nation, but that's why our student body is filled from all 50 states and 120 different countries.  We are able to do that because only about 12.5% of our funding comes from Lansing.


July 26th, 2010 at 1:10 AM ^

When you consider how much money the school makes off OOS tuition and how much higher OOS scores are, the 65/35 split shows a real commitment to to in-state students.

I really doubt that the number will ever dip below 60%, to be perfectly honest.

kevin holt

July 25th, 2010 at 10:54 PM ^

that while population has shifted through our whole history as a nation, the ivy league schools remain the best and most elite academically by a consensus. I believe that the population isn't the big issue.

However, I do agree about the admittance issues due to funding. The last 2 freshman classes have been huge, and some of the kids in it seem either like they wouldn't normally get in easily, or even (in some cases) that they are dumb as rocks. Even they are surprised to be accepted sometimes. And after all, a great measure of an institution is the number of applicants it rejects.

But I don't think this trend will shape the school. When more money is available to fund it, the school will take on a lower rate of acceptance. And we will always have the research, the grad schools, and the extremely difficult classes.


July 26th, 2010 at 12:03 AM ^

You're kidding right?  Anecdotally speaking, you're saying that a larger population will have more potential idiots?  Stop the presses.

You have to be forgetting that excluding the class of 2011, the university has expanded.  My class, HS 05/Umich 09 was the largest when it came in.  We passed the Umich class of 2008, and were passed by the class of 2010.  Each year the admissions standards and applicant quality have gotten higher, not lower.  It's to a point where the median ACT score is closer to 28/29 rather than 26.

This isn't to say that many schools aren't right on Michigan's heels (Illinois is very competetive) but I don't think its anything to worry about yet.


July 26th, 2010 at 12:15 AM ^

Here's the thing though: just because the population shift has been going south and west, the membership of elite schools isn't actually shifting too much.

In the west, Stanford and the UC system and maybe UW are the only major instituions like us.  CalTech is too small to be a real competitor for the majority of our students.  Stanford is a national level school, and the UCs (especially Berkeley, LA, and SB) have sky high standards because their in state population base is so freaking high.  There just isn't enough room in the good schools of the UC system to accomodate all of the tier 1 California students.  Then you have all the kids in a state like AZ, which has nothing even close to Michigan as an academic institution (ASU and Arizona are both in the 100s).

The same story exists in the south, to a lesser degree.  There are plenty of Blue Chip scholars out there, Michigan will get its fair share.


July 25th, 2010 at 4:47 PM ^ seems as though U of M is substantially recession-proof as an institution and the brand is still in the superior category. I don't see anything changing that, regardless of how the rest of the state fairs. Students will continue to apply to U of M from everywhere. Moreover, being on the faculty at U of M is, and will continue to be, a genuine feather in one's winged cap.

Zone Left

July 25th, 2010 at 4:48 PM ^

That's actually a really good question.  The population shift is going to continue to hurt the school unless it decides to shrink along with the population to maintain higher standards.

The school isn't going to go private, but it probably will need to figure out new ways to attract strong students from elsewhere to remain strong.


July 25th, 2010 at 4:49 PM ^

I don't think this is anything you should be worrying about. I grew up in the southeast, and had plenty of friends (myself included) who were both wanting and willing to leave the area to go to college, were it for an elite university. I had friends who left the southeast to go to Cal Berkeley, Stanford, Michigan, and more northern to Ivy League schools too. The best minds in the country will still aspire to go to elite universities, so Michigan will continue to get elite students. 


July 25th, 2010 at 4:50 PM ^

Michigan will be relevant and a powerhouse due to the grad/undergrad breakdown, which is basically 50/50. Most state schools are somewhere in the neighborhood of 80/20.


This brings top graduate talent to Michigan year in and year out, which is where the prestige for an institution comes from. Grad programs are more important than anything else, cause in academia, no one cares about undergraduates (sorry, it's true) unless you go to a small liberal arts school.


Also, research dollars at Michigan are ridiculous and go up each year. I wouldn't anoint Florida anything (Texas is a top institution) and I doubt they break the top five public schools anytime soon (Berkley, UCLA, UVA, Michigan, UNC) which have been the top five for as long as I can remember (in one order or the other).

Zone Left

July 25th, 2010 at 5:02 PM ^

I wouldn't anoint Florida either, but it does have fantastic potential if the state of Florida wants it to be elite.  To me, Texas has more potential than any public school out there--if only because the state is on much better footing than Michigan or California, but it needs another generation or so to be able to pass Michigan, Berkeley, and UVA.


July 25th, 2010 at 6:02 PM ^

TX might be in the worst position long term. The state of TX and everything in it is built on the oil and gas industry. Everyone agrees that we are on the downslope of that industry. it might be another 50-100 years before oil and gas are no longer our primary energy sources, but that day is coming. Other than oil and gas, what does TX really have?

Zone Left

July 25th, 2010 at 6:10 PM ^

It all depends on the state making wise decisions with its money.  If it transitions well, Dallas can become a financial center and Austin can remain a major entrepreneurial hub.  If not, then it becomes Michigan over the past decade.  

Time will tell, but I think Texas has positioned itself much better than, for example, Michigan and Ohio.  I live in California, and it's a near disaster out here.  There are cities laying off their police departments and outsourcing law enforcement.  Texas has done a better job, IMO, of managing their costs.


July 25th, 2010 at 6:14 PM ^

It all depends on the state making wise decisions with its money

Let me remind you, we are talking about Texas. The only reason they have any economy at all is pure luck (they discovered themselves accidentally sitting on it).

And Dallas as a financial center? Sorry, but the closest TX ever came to having a financial center was Enron and we all know how that turned out.


July 25th, 2010 at 6:12 PM ^

Their "big new diversifier" is in lumber. Woo replacing one dwindling resource to hinge their economy with another!

But really, as it's been said, the south, and Texas in particular, has built up a huge pro-business culture. I don't want to get into the politics of it, but it's impossible to deny it. The big reason the population is booming down here is because the jobs are here. The jobs are here because of the political atmosphere.

For example, Dell is based out of Austin (a hot bed for technology), and Boeing and Lockheed both do a lot out of Dallas (big on communications and aviation). Houston is the city where oil and gas are the biggest chunk, as even their large import/export market is still dominated by oil and gas.


July 25th, 2010 at 7:17 PM ^

The state has no income tax, relying almost completely on sales tax and very little property tax. I'm sure there's some sort of tax that they could pay if there isn't a loophole around it, as seems to be the case for any particular business not titled "brewing". (shakes fists at distributor policy that doesn't allow breweries to sell their own product to people on tours)

I'll just leave it as a link to State of Texas taxes for those REALLY interested. Because, I mean, who isn't super interested?


July 25th, 2010 at 10:01 PM ^

Your ratio is way off - about 26,000 undergrads and 15,500 grads...close to 63% undergrads to 37% grads.

No one cares about undergrads? Hate to disagree, but one of the reasons you would choose a school like Michigan is that grad schools do happen to know about the quality of a Michigan education. Ditto for employers.


July 25th, 2010 at 4:53 PM ^

Correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't UofM have the largest endowment for 2009 FY among public universities?  I wouldn't worry all that much about state funding.

Personally, I believe the plight of the American auto industry is temporary.  I think Detroit will lead the way in developing alternative fuel vehicles.  But maybe this is just wishful thinking.