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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.