(David Jesse/Detroit Free Press) - Michigan's public universities are sure to love this ranking system: a federal Department of Education list shows the state's universities aren't squeezing students' wallets as much as other schools across the nation.
The rankings, found through the government's College Affordability and Transparency Center, rate every institution in the nation on tuition cost and net price. This is the third year for the report.
Michigan finished near the bottom of the pack when looking at how much the net price of college increased from 2009-10 to 2010-11, the years covered by the new report. Net price takes the sticker price of college and then deducts the average financial aid award. College administrators and financial aid experts say parents and students should pay more attention to that number than to the overall tuition cost.
¦ Database: How much did your college hike its net cost? Search all U.S. schools
From 2009-10 to 2010-11, the net price at Michigan's public universities dropped 1.9%. Last year's report showed Michigan with a 2.2% average increase in net price. Michigan was one of nine states with a decline in the new report. The biggest decline was in Arkansas, where the net price dropped 11.2%.
Administrators at Michigan's universities said the drop reflects more money being pumped into financial aid, despite annual increases in tuition.
The University of Michigan in Ann Arbor had the biggest net price drop in the state, 16.7% - from $16,888 to $14,074. Oakland University had the biggest increase, 18.1% - from $12,224 to $14,440.
The national average for net price increased 5.1%. North Dakota had the biggest climb of any state, up 31.6%.
Tara Wilson, 58, of Southfield has one daughter who graduated from Central Michigan University in 2012 and another at Western Michigan University. She said the numbers surprise her.
"When you are struggling to pay the bills that come from these places, it's hard to think of them as being affordable," she said. "They still cost a lot of money."
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Michigan Technological University had the highest ranking in the state in both tuition and net price, at 42nd and 79th in the nation, respectively.
John Lehman, MTU's assistant vice president for enrollment services, cited 2013 rankings by PayScale showing that MTU's graduates rank 18th nationwide among those at 437 public universities for return on investment from their degree and in the top 10 for return on investment among Midwest schools. The report listed the typical starting salary of a Michigan Tech graduate at $56,000, and the 30-year net return on investment at $999,300, Lehman noted.
"This suggests that the net price is well worth the investment," he said in an e-mail. "And finally as you well know, over the past decade, state appropriations to Michigan Tech have dropped 24%. That drives up tuition for students."
In net price, Western Michigan University came in at 97th, University of Michigan in Ann Arbor came in at 114th, Michigan State University at 232nd and Wayne State University at 374th. A total of more than 650 four-year universities were listed.
"We believe this affordability ranking underscores the point that U-M has been very aggressive about boosting financial aid, which drives down the net cost of attendance for students with financial need," U-M spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said in an e-mailed statement.
"These new scores show that U-M has been addressing - and making significant headway - toward making college more affordable for many of our students. U-M's tuition is lower than many of our peers."