June 18, 2021: President's remarks to the MSU Board of Trustees

I want to thank all those who spoke today.

I want to start with an acknowledgment of the passing of an alumnus and exceptional friend of Michigan State University, Eli Broad, back on April 30.

I had the opportunity to pay tribute to Mr. Broad in front of Broad College of Business students at their graduation ceremony the day after his death and to speak to his outsize impact in other settings. I think it’s important to do it today.

Mr. Broad was someone whose genius and philanthropy touched so many lives in so many ways. From cutting-edge science at the Broad Institute to contemporary art here and in Los Angeles, to one of the world’s best business schools and in so many other places, Eli’s relentless commitment to achieving and supporting excellence was transformational.

He will be missed.

Apple Developer Academy
This week, we were pleased to announce a partnership with the Gilbert Family Foundation and the Rock Family of Companies for support of the new Developer Academy in Detroit Michigan State is planning with Apple.

We all share a vision to empower diverse entrepreneurs, creators and coders by developing skills for technology careers for today and tomorrow. The Apple Developer Academy will open this fall downtown on the second floor of Bedrock’s 660 Woodward Ave. space, known as the historic First National Building in the heart of downtown Detroit.

We expect the academy to impact close to 1,000 students a year.

STEM facility tour
Here on campus, last week we hosted U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow and U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin. They held a roundtable discussion with Michigan foresters and farmers that focused on the impacts of climate change.

And I joined them on a tour of our exciting new undergraduate STEM Teaching and Learning Facility, which will open fall semester. This is a remarkable building, one that showcases sustainability as it hosts the latest developments and innovations in teaching and learning. I can’t wait to see it in action.

Flint campus tour
Late last month, I finally had the opportunity to tour MSU’s extraordinary operations in Flint, a pioneering project that epitomizes many of Michigan State University’s strengths — particularly how we partner with communities to solve critical problems.

I was hosted by College of Human Medicine Dean Aron Sousa and staff from the college’s Division of Public Health.

I want to thank Dr. Debra Furr-Holden, Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha and the others who presented and joined our very productive conversations. Another highlight was my meeting with Dr. Jennifer Edwards-Johnson and some of our medical students.

And I had very informative discussions with our partners at the C.S. Mott Foundation and with Flint area elected officials and enjoyed the opportunity to meet MSU Extension staff there and tour the Flint Farmers' Market.

It was a great visit with some of the amazing people who are working with and for the people of Flint to help improve the quality of life for all members of the Flint community. I think every Spartan should be proud of this groundbreaking program.

It was great to visit with the team in a place MSU has had such a long and supportive relationship, and I look forward to more opportunities to start touring and visiting with our many other Spartan communities.

I want to talk now about several of our agenda items. Michigan State University is committed to delivering an exceptional undergraduate campus experience and a world-class education for all students. This experience is underpinned by our talented faculty and staff members and state-of-the-art technology and facilities — such as the new STEM building.

We very much recognize the need to continue enhancing the student experience and supporting our excellent faculty and a great learning environment while remaining affordable.

Financial aid
So let me talk for a moment about how we keep an MSU education affordable, specifically Michigan State University’s commitment to financial aid.

The budget we are proposing to the Board today once again includes an increase in regular financial aid of $3.8 million this year. That is on top of several years of regular financial aid increases, even as we exercised restraint on tuition.

In fact, we haven’t raised tuition in nearly four years, but our general fund financial aid has increased 18%, or $27 million.

This is important because over two-thirds of our students receive some form of financial support, including loans. In addition, we have distributed $30 million in emergency federal aid to help students through the pandemic over the last two academic years.

Next year, importantly, our students will be eligible for an additional round of COVID-19 Higher Education Emergency Relief Funds, referred to as HEERF.

We’re proud of the successes our commitment to affordability and excellence has produced, including steadily rising graduation rates and narrowing gaps in those rates among student groups.

Importantly, we’ve continued to work to be diligent financial stewards, even during the pandemic.

Tuition and MSU's value
Now, after nearly four years without a tuition increase for first-year students, we are asking the Board to adjust MSU’s tuition rates upward for the 2021-2022 academic year by 2%. That would equal $290 a year for incoming resident first-year students.

The Board and administration are very cognizant of the financial stresses students and families have experienced through the COVID-19 pandemic. I appreciate the thoughtfulness of our board members over the last few months while we’ve discussed many budget implications, alternatives and scenarios.

This tuition plan, part of a three-year budget, helps us give the university the support it needs and offers MSU, our students and families a greater degree of certainty about future costs.

Through a combination of financial aid sources and the distribution of emergency grants to students included in federal COVID-19 legislation, most families with an annual income of less than $100,000 will not be impacted by this increase in 2021-22. This is important. Again, families of less than $100,000 will not be impacted by this increase for 2021-22.

Spartan Advantage program participants, with family income below federal poverty guidelines, will see no out-of-pocket increases and will continue to receive financial aid equivalent to the total cost of attendance.

Tuition dollars support all our academic programs, including those designed to give students the greatest chances and opportunities to succeed. These include MSU’s Neighborhood Student Success Collaborative, our first- and second-year student experience programming, academic support services in every college and much more. 

While we want all students to have an outstanding experience at MSU, completing their degree in a timely manner delivers a lifetime of value.

Students’ ability to persist is often not tied to their ability to afford college, but rather competing stressors — physical and mental health, academic support, food and housing security — which are all areas that our student success programs are designed to address.

Especially since the pandemic, we have seen great increases in demand for mental health services in the nearly two years I’ve been here. These modest increases will also help support these critical services.

Recreational facility fee
Something else that supports mental, as well as physical health, is recreation.

Michigan State today is the only Big Ten and major state public university without a student recreational fee to maintain and upgrade recreational facilities. The adequacy of our rec facilities is something I’ve heard about from our students since I arrived at MSU.

A fee, and the needed facility upgrades, are something ASMSU has considered supporting and are very long overdue.

So, we propose to phase in an annual student recreational facility fee, starting at $100 next year and reaching $260 at the end of a three-year period.

That fee would be exactly in line with the Big Ten average and would allow us to significantly improve our recreation and intramural facilities, hopefully with significant improvements visible by the spring of 2022.

I also want to address room-and-board rates.

Room and board
Michigan State on-campus residents enjoy not only a safe, convenient and welcoming place to live but also the presence of social and academic supports that contribute to their success.

A year ago, with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, we did not seek an increase in room-and-board rates. But MSU today is well below many of our peer universities in this area — we charge the second-lowest rate in the Big Ten and fifth-lowest among Michigan public universities.

The rising cost of food, facility maintenance, safety upgrades and other expenses has surpassed revenues to support the standards we adhere to.

Today, we’re asking trustees to consider an annual room-and-board increase next year for residence halls of $204, or 91 cents per day. University apartment rental rates would not change — they would remain the same. 

This 1.95% increase would generate $2.7 million in additional revenue to better support our residential and dining facilities, and MSU’s rate would still be the second-lowest in the Big Ten.

Michigan State University is a global research university whose vital mission starts with offering exceptional value to its students and to our stakeholders across Michigan. The proposals in front of the Board would allow us to maintain that essential value of accessibility and excellence to students and the state.

Juneteenth celebration
I want to close now on a celebratory note by marking Michigan State University’s inaugural observance of Juneteenth this week. As of yesterday, Juneteenth became a federal holiday, something we can all celebrate.

Tomorrow’s culminating activities include a live and in-person program of music and commemorative presentations at Munn Field. I urge everyone to learn more about these events by going to the webpages of the Office of Inclusion and Intercultural Initiatives.

And with that, I’ll conclude my remarks.