Over the past two decades, traditional government funding for higher education has sharply declined. In Michigan, a state at the epicenter of the recent recession, appropriations for higher education have not kept pace with tuition. Out-of-pocket costs for students, who must make up the difference, have risen dramatically. Graduates from Michigan public universities rank 12th nationally in total student debt. At Ferris, the average student leaves campus owing more than $35,000.
This reality affects all students but hits those with the least financial means hardest. On average, 40 percent of Ferris students qualify for federal Pell Grants and state Tuition Incentive Program (TIP) assistance, meaning they come from very-low-income families. Ferris students are often the first in their families to attend college; when they pursue a degree, their families are typically able to offer little or no financial support. As a result, our students borrow heavily, work part-time jobs, incur credit-card debt and extend their time to a degree. They graduate with a large debt load, which takes them a decade or more to pay off. This leads them to delay things like buying a house, starting a family and saving for retirement.
Ferris State University has always been an institution of opportunity, one that meets challenges head on. While the student debt crisis is a national problem, Ferris has been working diligently to develop practical solutions for current and future students. Not content to simply hold the line on student debt, we have made an unqualified commitment to reversing the trend. Since 2012, the University has held tuition increases to an average 2.51 percent annually while increasing financial aid and scholarships to reduce the net price by 12.3 percent. We also provide financial literacy training for first-year students and are examining ways to reduce time to a degree.
These are all positive steps, but we recognize that more must be done. To help hardworking Ferris students, we must significantly increase institutional aid. The University is off to a good start: Through cost containment, philanthropy and other sources, Ferris has increased its level of financial aid. Assistance from the University’s General Fund has more than tripled from FY 07 to FY 16, despite falling state appropriations.
Through the campaign, our aim is to grow scholarships substantially, with a stretch goal of doubling our scholarship endowment. The beauty of an endowment is its permanence: The principal is never spent. Rather, a small percentage of the interest on those funds is directed to student support year after year, in perpetuity. This is why endowments are a key strategy for future scholarship funding at Ferris. Increasing our scholarship endowment will provide future students with permanent, reliable and predictable support.
The Ferris Futures Scholarship Challenge
Through an extraordinary convergence of vision and resources. The Ferris Foundation is able to offer an exceptional opportunity to support students. The Ferris Futures Scholarship Challenge provides $18 million in matching funds. Every qualifying charitable gift donors make to endowed scholarships will be matched, dollar for dollar.
Donors may start new endowed funds, ranging from $25,000 to $1 million or more. Through June 30, 2023, The Ferris Foundation will match up to $3 million in gifts per year toward new or existing endowments. In turn, all of these endowed funds will be put to work for the financial support of students. Donors with existing endowed scholarships may add to them to qualify for the match. Donors who have funds of less than $25,000 may give to trigger the match and bring those funds to the minimum threshold. Alumni, parents and friends are able to direct funds for student support to the college, academic or athletic program of their choice.
Through the Ferris Futures Scholarship Challenge, many Ferris students will have a chance to succeed in life, a chance they might not get elsewhere. These motivated students go on to become the capable citizens, hardworking employees and agile entrepreneurs our state and our world so desperately need.