My grandfather, Harold Nelson, dropped out of the University of Michigan.
He worked hard and earned good grades, but when his family fell on hard times in the 1930s, he couldn’t afford to stay in school. He left Ann Arbor, returned home, and never graduated.
Today, far too many students face the same situation. Insurmountable financial barriers stand between their dreams and the transformative impact of a Michigan degree. The very students for whom a Michigan degree would mean the most face the greatest obstacles.
That’s why I proudly joined my colleagues on the U-M board of regents to help champion the Go Blue Guarantee, which promises four years of free tuition to in-state students with a family income of $65,000 or less. The median household income for Michigan families is just below $65,000 dollars, and we are guaranteeing free college tuition for over half the families in our state.
This is a big win for Michigan families who want a better future and students who have worked hard to achieve their dreams. The new program is an important moment in the history of our University and higher education in our state.
I’m grateful to U-M President Mark Schlissel for making this commitment in a resource-constrained environment. Other tuition guarantee programs in California and New York leverage substantial state grants made directly to students. For example, the average state grant received by UCLA students exceeds $10,000 a year, compared with the average state grant for Michigan students of just $715. By making college affordable for students who need the most help, we are doing the job that Washington and Lansing have failed to do.
Importantly, the Go Blue Guarantee does not take away any need-based financial aid for other students. In fact, many students from families earning $125,000 or less annually are awarded scholarships and grants that pay half their tuition. We are the only public university in Michigan that meets 100 percent of the financial need for in-state students.
This new financial aid program amplifies our long-standing commitment to meet the need for all in-state students. Over the past decade, our undergraduate financial aid budget has increased over 11 percent on average per year—more than double the rate of tuition increases.
Of course, the extraordinary generosity of our donors has been key to the development of the Go Blue Guarantee through their commitment to financial aid, which underlies this program. We simply couldn’t do this without their support.
I love the University of Michigan, but my grandfather loved it even more. Not because he studied here before dropping out. Not because his wife and both daughters were graduates. And not because he was a passionate football fan.
My grandfather deeply loved the University for the values it embodies. He believed that the University of Michigan enables our aspirations to change ourselves and society through leadership and discovery.
He believed we are truly the Leaders and Best. The Go Blue Guarantee is proof that he was right.
U-M Regent Mark Bernstein, ’93, JD’96, MBA’96, is president and managing partner of The Sam Bernstein Law Firm.