University Leaders Skeptical of Lowering Gov. Rick Snyder's Proposed 3.2 Percent Tuition Increase Cap

University Leaders Skeptical of Lowering Gov. Rick Snyder's Proposed 3.2 Percent Tuition Increase Cap
By Brian McVicar

February 28, 2014/MLive

GRAND RAPIDS, MI - Presidents of four Michigan universities – including Grand Valley State and Ferris State – were noncommittal Thursday when asked in a state hearing whether they would accept capping tuition increases at 2.6 percent instead of 3.2 percent.

Gov. Rick Snyder’s proposed higher education budget would require Michigan’s 15 public universities to limit tuition increases to 3.2 percent – two times the rate of inflation – to receive full funding.

But during a state Senate Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee meeting, Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker, R-Antwerp Township, asked whether the universities could manage to limit tuition increases to an even lower level – 2.6 percent or less. She said members of the state House have discussed lowering the cap.

None of the four university presidents in attendance offered a direct “yes” or “no” answer. Instead, they discussed the complexities that go into setting tuition rates, and the multiple factors – such as academic expenses – that affect what the rate is set at.

Ferris State President David Eisler said he strives to keep tuition increases as low as possible, regardless of the state’s tuition cap.

“For me, the responsibility of setting tuition is more important than the tuition restraint,” said Eisler, who added that in past years, his university has kept tuition increases below the cap.

Related: Gov. Snyder proposes major boosts for education funding, especially preschool and college students

Thursday’s meeting, hosted by Grand Valley State University, is one of several taking place as lawmakers debate – and possibly alter – the governor’s budget proposal. In addition to GVSU and Ferris, the presidents of Michigan Technological University and University of Michigan-Flint were present.

The presidents were largely supportive of Snyder’s budget proposal, saying it demonstrates a commitment to higher education.

The budget would increase higher education funding by nearly $80 million, a 6.1 percent increase from the previous year.

The $80 million is tied to performance measures such as controlling costs, the number of degrees awarded in “critical skills” areas, and the number of students who are low-income and receiving Pell grants. Under the proposed budget, universities that raise tuition above 3.2 percent would not receive full performance funding.

Snyder and the Republican-led legislature cut 15 percent from the higher education budget in 2011, and have restored funding incrementally over the last two years.

Related: GVSU students on $188 per semester tuition increase: 'I don’t think it should be this expensive'

Reading from prepared remarks, GVSU President Thomas Haas said the governor has “proposed the largest investment in higher education in a generation.”

“We hope the Senate and House will agree that an investment in higher education is the right strategy for Michigan,” he said. “These actions will bring to an end two decades of balancing the state budget on the backs of college students and their families.”

Like the other presidents in attendance, Haas did not offer a direct answer on whether the university supported or opposed reducing the tuition cap to 2.6 percent.

But he said the university is focused on affordability.

“We will, in conversations with the board, put students first,” Haas said.

Snyder has included tuition restraint funding in all his previous budgets, and universities have “reluctantly” supported the approach, said Michael Boulus, executive director of the Presidents Council, State Universities of Michigan.

But Boulus opposes any attempt by the legislature to lower the cap to 2.6 percent, saying such a move would be “unreasonable.”

“We don’t want to go into making it political gamesmanship,” he said.

Michigan Technological University President Glenn Mroz said universities should be given “leeway” to operate within the range of 3.2 percent.

“A lot of us aren’t going to be at that level,” he said, referencing the proposed cap. “As you take a look at the increases last year, there were some people right at the cap and quite a few that were considerably lower.”

Posted on Monday, March 03, 2014 (Archive on Monday, January 01, 0001)
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