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University of Michigan residency policy comes under criticism

BY NICOLE ABER
Daily Staff Reporter
Published March 11, 2009

The original version of this article inaccurately quoted Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs Chair David Potter. Potter said the current residency procedure is a hassle for students who are classified as non-residents, not for students classified as in-state residents.

When LSA junior and long-time Michigan resident Lawrence Joseph first glanced at his tuition bill last semester, he couldn’t help but cringe.

Joseph was born and raised in Michigan but decided to attend the University of Wisconsin at Madison. After his freshman year, Joseph returned to his home state to attend the University of Michigan’s Dearborn campus, and then one year later, Joseph again transferred to the University’s campus in Ann Arbor.

But after Joseph checked his first semester tuition bill in Ann Arbor, he discovered the University was charging him out-of-state tuition rates, despite the fact that he has lived in Michigan most of his life.

“I was in-state (tuition) at Dearborn,” Joseph said. “So when I transferred over here, I never thought that I would be considered out-of-state.”

According to the Office of the Registrar’s website, as per University Residency Classification Guidelines, if you are a Michigan resident but “you have attended or graduated from a college outside the state of Michigan, you must file an Application for Resident Classification and be approved to qualify for in-state tuition.”

Before filing residency classification applications, these students are billed for out-of-state tuition. But most students can avoid paying out-of-state tuition after a somewhat complicated and lengthy process. However, the deadline for students filing a residency classification application comes after the deadline for paying tuition.

Criticisms of the residency policy have arisen amid suggestions by University officials in early February that they are open to accepting more transfer students who are facing economic hardship and can no longer afford out-of-state tuition. The complexity of the application process, compounded by the invitation for more transfer applications, raises questions about how effectively the University will be able to handle such an influx.

Joseph, who was classified as in-state at the University’s Dearborn campus, avoided paying out-of-state tuition after going through the complicated process of submitting driver’s licenses, passports and W-2 tax forms to the Residency Classification Office.

Lester Monts, senior vice provost for academic affairs and member of the Residency Appeal Committee of the Residency Classification Office, said that from the summer of 2007 through the summer of 2008, the Residency Classification Office approved 1,833 applications out of the 2,623 submitted, or almost 70 percent of applications. And many of the applicants, just like Joseph, are Michigan residents who have transferred to the University after initially attending an out-of-state school.

Students like LSA junior Nithya Ravindran, a Michigan resident and transfer student from Emory University, also had to go through the process of residency classification.

Ravindran said she made the decision to return home and attend the University of Michigan, in part, because of the cost.

“Emory’s a private institution so I was paying like $50,000 a year without any financial aid, so that was definitely one of the factors,” Ravindran said. “My parents said we’re not paying so much for you to go (to Emory) when you can go (to the University of Michigan), and it’s just as good.”

According to David Potter, chair of the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs, the current process of applying for residency classification can be an extremely tedious one for students.

While Potter could not speak on behalf of SACUA, as it has not yet reviewed the process of residency classification for these transfer students, he said it’s one that needs to be simplified.

“We just want to streamline that process to cut down the hassle for people who are classified as non-residents that are going to be rescinded as soon as people look at them,” Potter said. “It is a pain in the neck for students to find that it has been reclassified. We know that it’s going to be overturned, but there’s still a process.”

Potter said the Student Relations Advisory Committee brought the residency classification process problems to his attention several months ago. As a result, Potter said SACUA will hopefully review and further discuss the residency classification process at its April 6 meeting.

Regent S. Martin Taylor (D–Grosse Pointe Farms) said that while the process hasn’t been fully reviewed by the Board of Regents, the system of residency classification for these transfer students needs to be addressed.

“Well I’m certainly going to try and see if we can simplify it,” Taylor said. “Although the issue of residency domicile has always been a very complex issue, I’m certainly looking at it.”

Monts said the process of residency classification for these transfer students is a necessary one to make sure students qualify for in-state tuition.

Monts said the “system in place is fair and equitable to all students,” and that residency classification for these transfer students isn’t something that can be confirmed simply by viewing the admissions application because each case is different.

Although several students who went through this process said they were not aware they would have to apply for residency classification, Monts said all University applicants are notified about applying for residency classification when they apply for admission.

He said this gives students more than enough time to file the residency application form, which can be processed up to a year prior to enrollment in order to receive a timely decision.

“The University takes very seriously its commitment to residents of the state of Michigan,” Monts said. “And the residency guidelines and process have been put in place to insure that residency status and all of its benefits are afforded only to students who are truly residents.”

The review of the residency classification process has come during a time when the University is expecting a slight increase in the number of transfer students for the upcoming fall term, Monts said.

In a meeting with SACUA on March 2, University President Mary Sue Coleman said the process of residency classification is a complex issue that needs to be fully understood by the committee before it seeks to have anything revised.

Taylor said he would be meeting with a number of people at the end of the month to get input on reviewing and discussing the residency classification process.


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