|State Must Embrace and Fund Higher Education, Rather than Turning Away from Colleges and Universities|
Our Voice: State must embrace and fund higher education, rather than turning away from colleges and universities
June 27, 2010/Flint Journal
By Flint Journal Staff
Lansing fiddles with chronic budget problems while tuition increases burn into student budgets at public colleges across the state.
In Flint, the University of Michigan-Flint may raise tuition next year by 3.9 percent; Mott Community College is considering an 11.7 percent increase.
UM-Flint’s increase would be the lowest there in years; Mott’s, one of its largest in recent years.
What’s going on here is the state’s community colleges and universities are striving to cope with increased costs and reduced revenues.
In the case of community colleges, it’s easy to see their stream of revenue shrink, as the local property tax revenues that help support them fall along with plummeting property values.
We’ve hammered at colleges over the years for raising their tuition, just as students continue to flood to this day through their doors seeking to reinvent themselves and their lives with a college education.
But there’s more at work here than tuition hikes to cover rising college costs.
Most universities and community colleges, our local institutions included, protest mightily that they have cut their costs, just as everyone else has had to balance their books in the Great Lakes State through years of falling income, economic recession and rising costs for basics such as health insurance.
Colleges should continue to seek efficiencies.
In turn, though, Michigan leaders in Lansing must quit their abandonment of higher education. According to Senate testimony this spring, Presidents Council of the State Universities of Michigan says the state has cut its support for higher education almost 23 percent this decade.
And then senators voted to cut the higher education budget another 3 percent in the coming fiscal year. The House of Representatives, on the other hand, chose to hold the line on college spending, with no cuts. For the final budget, then, it looks like either a freeze for higher education or another cut.
The state’s continued withdrawal of support for higher education is the main reason colleges in Michigan have raised the cost to students.
At the same time, our elected leaders have time and again touted the importance of college-educated Michiganders to a turnaround in this state’s fortunes after almost a decade of recession and massive manufacturing jobs losses.
So Michigan students — and if they are lucky enough to have help, their families — are left with an increasing tuition burden to improve their own lives, and pull the state upward with them.
With so much at stake for the entire state, it’s high time our legislators rethink Lansing’s relationship with Michigan’s public colleges and universities. They should begin by harking back to the time, several decades ago, when state appropriations paid about three-quarters of the cost of educating college students, with roughly a quarter of the cost covered by student tuition and fees.
Now, that proportion has flipped, with students shouldering the lion’s share of college costs. That, at a time now when more Michiganders than ever need college to get and create great jobs, but can least afford it.
Sure, some may drawl, and where would all this money come from?
It’s a valid concern. Look around these pleasant peninsulas, and we may find some trusts and funds that could be diverted toward higher education; maybe there is support for a slight sales or income tax increase if it builds toward better times for Michigan through its colleges. Can universities with massive endowments be forced to use that money to subsidize tuition?
The point is that Lansing must stop turning away from higher education, and embrace its world-class colleges and universities.
As it is, they are increasingly on their own, to keep raising tuition way beyond any inflation rate just to keep up with their expenses. Or compete with each other for students in a bid for more bodies rather than higher bills — Eastern Michigan University’s approach with its zero-tuition-increase pledge for the coming year.
Colleges, like everyone else, must continue to root out costs they can cut.
But as we look to them for our state’s salvation, that’s not enough.
Michigan must return to a time when it embraced its colleges, championed its students and shouldered a large share of the costs of creating a highly educated work force.
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