Why the 'Michigan2020' Plan is a Poor Investment

Some Michigan politicians are touting a proposal they call “Michigan2020,” which would make available to all Michigan high school graduates four years of fully subsidized college education.

The estimated $1.8 billion needed to pay for the subsidies would apparently come from ending corporate welfare, a reform the Mackinac Center fully endorses. Unfortunately, just pouring additional taxpayer dollars into state universities is more likely to benefit their administrators and other employees than students, and here’s why:

According to federal statistics presented by the Chronicle of Higher Education, only 33 percent of students enrolled in Michigan’s public universities graduate in four years. Only 61 percent graduate in six years.

The proposal would also pay for classes at community colleges, but their graduation rates are even lower. Only about 15 percent of students who enroll in these two-year colleges get a four-year degree within six years or a two-year degree within three years.

In the world of finance, these would be considered extremely poor investments.

Low college graduation rates aren’t unique to Michigan. In fact, this state’s abysmal six-year graduation rate is higher than the national average.

A wide range of factors most likely contribute to the low completion rates, but inability to pay doesn’t appear to be one of them. Nationally, completion rates have stayed roughly the same or slightly decreased while federal aid for college grew from $10 billion in 2000 to $30 billion in 2008.

Increasing the number of graduates — preferably with degrees that actually have value in the career marketplace — will require much more than just pumping more taxpayer subsidies into the current system.

Indeed, until the cause of low college completion rates is better understood — and the institutions get serious about containing absurd cost increases — it might make more sense to scale back current taxpayer subsidies.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.