Centennial Celebrations

Gov. Ferris was acutely aware of economic concerns to students

by Published: Jan 23, 2013

Ferris State University has evolved in name and in curriculum since the inception of the school created by Gov. Woodbridge Ferris. But Ferris most certainly could not fathom the economic costs for students today.

“My plea in Michigan and it will be my plea to the last breath I draw, and the last word I speak is education for all children, all men and all women of Michigan,” Ferris said.

Last week marked the centennial celebration of his inauguration speech as the Governor of Michigan. Gov. Ferris’ inauguration speech centered on topics that are still problematic today: school funding, conditions suitable for learning and bipartisan cooperation.

Ferris, a Democrat, was a gross minority in the overwhelmingly Republican Mecosta County and across the state. He was the only Democrat on the state ticket to win. A supporter of President Wilson’s policies, Ferris understood the need for cooperation between political classes for a common goal.

Today, Gov. Snyder and other state officials have had much difficulty passing bilateral legislation. It continues to be a problem that reaches far beyond Michigan borders.

The event “Celebrating the Legacy: Gov. Woodbridge N. Ferris,” headed by the Political Engagement Project (PEP) and Ferris’ History Task Force on Jan. 16, included an oration of the inaugural speech by Professor Gary Dempsey, interjected with similarities of our current state by Big Rapids Mayor Mark Warba.

In 1913, students were charged $2.50 per week to enroll in a full class load in the business department, according to the Ferris Institute Historical Catalog. Room and board charges ranged between $2.75 — $3.50 per week depending on specific amenities. Inflation and expenditures created from a growing education system has shot this figure to where it is today.

Ferris students and families are responsible for $142 million in tuition of the $190 million total budget for this fiscal year, roughly $10,000 per student.

“There are a lot of issues that have not been addressed since Ferris; it’s a little disheartening that we have not come up with a solution,” Ferris senior in political science Alicia Moreno said.

According to the Institute of College Access and Success, student debt for a 2011 Ferris graduate sits at over $35,000, the most of any other state university in Michigan, an increase of almost $7,000 from four years ago. This figure also puts Ferris in the top 20 nationally of high-debt colleges.

Dempsey, who played the role of Ferris at the event, explained that students in the early twentieth century could accumulate enough money after having a summer job to completely pay off student expenditures for the upcoming school year.

Gov. Ferris strived to give the “sons and daughters of coal miners” an opportunity to gain higher education.

“When people have to take out loans that are as much as house payments to go to college, it puts an excessive burden on the student. I truly feel for the students,” Dempsey said.

Ferris State University, formerly known as Big Rapids Industrial School, was a private institution which did not receive state monies until becoming a state college in the 1950s.

This school year, the university was the recipient of 42 million state dollars, the lowest investment per student in the state of Michigan.

“What would disappoint Gov. Ferris the most is if someone wanted to get an education, regardless of their background, but couldn’t afford one,” Warba said.

Warba continued to explain that the university also received additional allocations to the tune of $1.2 million from the state. The money was given as a result that the university met affordability standards handed down by the state.

Warba described that Ferris must get the attention of law makers in Lansing, reduce costs and expenditures and the university must find something other than tuition to fund the university.

During the next PEP event, the group will address the outcome of the controversial Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court case handed out 40 years ago. The event will take place Jan. 30 at 7 p.m. in BUS 111.