|University Presidents Lobby Lansing for Funding|
The Detroit News
LANSING -- The state's three largest universities are a powerful economic engine for the state, but the Legislature needs to invest in higher education to ensure continued progress and access for all students, presidents of University of Michigan, Michigan State University and Wayne State University said Tuesday morning.
"We are committed to Michigan's future," MSU President Lou Anna Simon said at the Capitol before members of the Legislature.
"We know we have to be competitive in order to bring jobs to Michigan and to serve our families well. That's our commitment."
Tuesday's hearing was the third in a series of during which House higher education appropriation subcommittee members listened to testimony from college leaders over the proposed budget. The testimony comes amid the backdrop of Gov. Jennifer Granholm's call for a tuition freeze at the state's 15 public universities, and her recommendation for a 3 percent appropriations decrease to the institutions.
It's still unclear how the state will divvy up federal economic stimulus money to the universities, which may stave off tuition increases this year.
Two years ago, MSU, U-M, and Wayne formed the University Research Corridor, a collaboration to leverage resources and research to spark economic development. As in recent years, the presidents testified jointly Tuesday, touting the economic activity such as U-M's $108 million purchase of the former Pfizer site in Ann Arbor and MSU landing the $550 million Facility for Rare Isotope Beams from the U.S. Department of Energy.
The corridor, with a combined $1.38 billion in research and development dollars, is already ahead of the half of the six university research consortiums in the nation that predated it, Wayne President Jay Noren said. A big reason for that is Michigan's past investment in higher education -- but state appropriations to higher education has waned dramatically in the last decade, putting Michigan 49th in the nation for investment in public universities, he said.
"It's critical that we reverse that trend so we sustain our position nationally and internationally," Noren said.
Members of the House committee did not pepper the university presidents about tuitions hikes. But after the hearing, the three presidents said it was too early in the budget process to determine whether they could freeze rates this year, as the state appropriations and stimulus money have not been determined.
The presidents remain committed to making education affordable and accessible to their students and to do their part to meet President Obama's goal of the United States having the highest proportion of college graduates in world by 2020, said U-M President Mary Sue Coleman.
"We know families are concerned about the bottom line, and so are we," Coleman said.
Saginaw Valley State University President Eric R. Gilbertson testified on the impact the state's disinvestment in higher education has had on the public university with the lowest tuition -- at $6,492 for freshman.
In 1999, state appropriations were worth $4,300 per student; that's $3,462 per student under the proposed 2010 budget, Gilbertson said. As state support declined, costs have been pushed onto students whose tuition and fee revenues account for 65 percent of SVSU's general budget today, compared to 43 percent in 1998.
Asked if the governor's call for a tuition freeze is realistic amid the prospect of a 3 percent budget cut to universities, Gilbertson said: "Of course not." He cautioned that using one-time stimulus money is not a solution to fix long-term budget problems.
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