|Michael Boulus: Time for State Reinvestment in Higher Education if We Want to Return to Prosperity|
January 28, 2014/MLive
By Michael A. Boulus
It’s time for a strategic reinvestment in Michigan’s public universities. The state has the resources. Now we will find out if it has the wisdom to invest with an eye toward future growth, or if we will meekly accept our current position as one of the bottom 10 states in the nation in per capita support for higher education.
In a decade when college graduates have become the most vital resource for growing economies – the states with the most graduates living in them are the most prosperous, as those highly educated individuals attract good paying jobs and provide entrepreneurial bounce – Michigan has been among the national leaders in slashing support for higher education.
Overall state higher education spending, including money for private colleges and the state’s limited investment in scholarships, has dropped by $500 million from 2002 to this year. Per student support public universities has been cut nearly in half on an inflation adjusted basis, forcing universities to raise tuition to maintain the high quality students are demanding.
Business Leaders for Michigan, which relies on universities to provide its future employees, is advocating for a $1 billion increase in support for higher education to make us a top 10 state in university support, spread over 10 years. This important group is also pushing for Michigan to become the international hub for auto research, management, marketing and headquarter operations, with a goal of attracting 100,000 high paying, college educated jobs to the state.
Without sufficient numbers of new graduates, that simply will not happen.
Lumina Foundation has reported Michigan needs 1 million more college graduates by 2020 to fulfill the jobs of tomorrow. Failure to do that will mean those jobs will go to the states that are creating and attracting college graduates.
Michigan’s public universities are already a key driver in our state’s economic vitality, creating 212,000 direct jobs, providing employment opportunities for thousands of others around the state, and creating a $23.9 billion economic footprint in Michigan, according to a new report from the Anderson Economic Group commissioned by the Presidents Council, State Universities of Michigan.
This report shows every one of Michigan’s 83 counties benefits from our state’s investment in public higher education. Michigan’s public universities graduated more than 60 percent of all four-year degree holding state residents, some 1.3 million alumni earning $47 billion in wages and salaries in 2012.
With more than 300,000 students, Michigan ranks sixth among the states in public university enrollment, despite being ninth in population. Enrollment increased 5 percent from 2003 to 2012 and the number of undergraduates earning degrees increased by 13 percent, even as the number of high school graduates has decreased.
Our universities are also talent magnets, attracting tens of thousands of students to our state every year. Top residents from other states coming to Michigan for a higher education are: Illinois (5,775), Ohio (3,201), California (3,140), New York (2,799) and Wisconsin (1,827). And public universities also bring in the best and brightest from other nations led by students from China, India, Saudi Arabia and Canada.
Michigan’s universities are doing all they can to bolster the state’s economy – in fact, they are easily the state’s most important economic development tool. But without additional state support, it’s difficult to see how they will be able to compete adequately with universities from other states in attracting and turning out the raw material of the knowledge economy.
This year’s budget discussion will determine whether our state is truly interested in becoming a knowledge economy leader – or will be content to continue our current direction, accepting our ranking in the bottom third of states in prosperity as measured by per capita income. With a significant surplus due to the state’s economic recovery, now is the time to invest in in higher education, the key to our state’s future.
Michael A. Boulus is Executive Director of the Presidents Council State Universities of Michigan