Oakland University and other Michigan colleges have felt the enrollment effects of the pandemic.

Oakland University and other Michigan colleges have felt the enrollment effects of the pandemic.

Photo provided by Oakland University

Enrollment down in Michigan, tuition going up

By: Kathryn Pentiuk, Mark Vest | Metro | Published November 20, 2023


METRO DETROIT — It’s no secret that college enrollment rates have declined since the COVID-19 pandemic.

But while enrollment has been down, costs have been up, and local universities and community colleges have reported tuition increases.

Oakland Community College has five campuses, which are located in Southfield, Royal Oak, Auburn Hills, Waterford and Farmington Hills.

OCC Chancellor Peter Provenzano said there are currently about 21,900 students enrolled for the year, compared to approximately 24,400 five years ago.

“Tuition costs have increased about 13% over the last five years, and then enrollment has decreased by about 10% over the last five years,” Provenzano said.

Provenzano shared how OCC approaches tuition costs.

“What we believe in is steady increases,” he said. “Oftentimes what you’ll see is, an institution will, they may not raise their tuition, or they’ll raise it 7%, 10%. We really believe in just small increases to kinda keep up with inflation. Right now, we’re not even keeping up with inflation, but we look at the long-term, so 2.5%, 3%, 4% increases per year allows us to keep up with inflation, but also allows us to keep the costs down for students.”

Provenzano said that OCC tries to keep its tuition costs as low as the college possibly can. Aside from estimating what the college’s revenue is going to be, Provenzano provided details about other factors that go into making decisions about tuition fees.

“Our three primary revenues are property taxes, state revenue, as well as tuition,” he said. “And then we try to estimate what we think enrollment might be. We marry that up with our projected costs for the year. … And then we determine what our tuition rate needs to be. We also take a look at our peers — what their tuition rates are.”

From Provenzano’s perspective, when it comes to educational institutions in Michigan, OCC offers a solid bargain for students.

“We are the largest transfer institution in the state of Michigan, and many students take advantage of our low cost and small class sizes,” he said. “They choose OCC and then transfer to the university of their choice, and they save a ton of money. … It brings the total cost of education way down.”

Brian Bierley, the director of media relations for Oakland University in Rochester, stated that he “would agree that the pandemic has negatively impacted enrollment for the past few years at almost every college and university and there has also been a decrease in the overall number of Michigan high school students graduating each year. So, we are working to rebuild enrollment to pre-pandemic levels and working to increase the number of current students who stay in school and complete their studies.”

OU’s enrollment peaked in 2015 at 16,793 and has gradually declined to 12,719 in 2023, representing a 24% drop in overall enrollment. However, this fall shows promise as freshmen enrollment is the highest since fall 2019.

In June, the Board of Trustees of OU approved a tuition increase for incoming freshmen. The full-time resident undergraduate tuition for the academic year 2023-24 is $15,225, an increase of $21.75 per credit hour. The 2023-24 budget includes a 4.5% tuition increase, the Michigan Legislature’s recommended tuition restraint. Additionally, the 2023-24 university housing budget included no increase in room and board rates. The housing budget also consists of a $500 reduction in cost for standard residence double occupancy rooms, a 4.6% reduction in cost, available to both incoming and returning students in OU’s residence halls.

OU offers scholarships and grants to help cover some or all of students’ tuition, with 75% of students receiving some form of financial aid, thus reducing OU’s full-time resident undergraduate students’ average net tuition cost by an estimated one-third.

For Lawrence Technological University, a private institution in Southfield, the outcome has been the opposite, with an increase in enrollment, according to Lisa Kujawa, the vice president for enrollment management.

Kujawa explained that, since the pandemic started, LTU has increased its class of students enrolled as their “first time in any college” for the fall semester from a class of 350 to a class of 489.

“Our goal is always to bring in 500 first-time students, and we are getting very close,” Kujawa said. “We have grown our dual enrollment or early middle college from 300 in one semester to 600. This fall semester, we will reach over 1,200, and that is a direct result of students in high school wanting to find ways to lessen their debt.”

She added that LTU’s full-time (30 credit hours per year) tuition and fees, on average, are $41,000 for a commuter student and $52,000 for a residential student per year. LTU gives $28 million annually in scholarships and grants, both merit and need-based. She explained that this funding is not covered by federal or state money each year.

Kujawa shared a heartwarming story of a student who was maxed out on his student loans, with only seven classes left to complete before graduation. She shared that, after evaluating his options, it was decided that he would finish his last seven classes without paying LTU because “it’s the right thing to do,” Kujawa said. “The Lawrence brothers, in their founding documents, said, ‘Every student deserves an education, and finances should never get in the way.’ Ninety years later, we stand by that notion, and we will always work with our students.”

This fall, undergraduate enrollment grew for the first time since the pandemic’s start, with a 2.1% increase nationally. Community college enrollment is also rising nationally, with a 4.4% increase this fall.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer highlighted the Michigan Achievement Scholarship program for 2023 high school grads, which  awards up to $2,000 for career training programs per year for up to two years, $2,750 for community college for three years, $4,000 for up to five years of private college or university, and $5,500 for up to five years for a Michigan public university or a baccalaureate degree program at a Michigan community college.

The Michigan Achievement Scholarship and the Michigan Reconnect program aim to get Michigan to meet the “Sixty by 30” goal, in which 60% of Michiganders will have a skill certificate or college degree by 2030.