October 08, 2011/The Grand Rapids Press
The Grand Rapids Press in its Oct. 2 editorial rightly points out that the cost of public higher education is an issue worthy of serious public discussion. As The Press observed, this need not be a debate about governance. Rather, it’s about what we can do together to make college more affordable.
Necessarily, this discussion begins with two elemental questions: what do state policy makers expect from their public universities; and, how will the state fulfill its constitutional obligation to maintain them? We welcome this kind of all-encompassing discussion.
Constructive engagement is key to a productive outcome. Unfortunately, many find it easy to just blame universities for the high cost of tuition, ignoring — often conveniently — the fact that tuition has gone up because state funding has gone down. Thirty years ago, the state provided 75 percent of Grand Valley’s operating revenue. Today, it is just 14 percent, yielding a per student allocation that is almost last in the nation.
We are not complaining. The state cannot appropriate money it does not have, so the need for us to economize has never been greater. Grand Valley has cut budgets, frozen salaries, restricted new positions, and developed new health insurance options that share expenses 80/20 with faculty and staff. In hundreds of ways every year, we avoid millions of dollars in expense.
And we do so in ways that protect the quality of our programs. Need proof? For 16 years in a row, Grand Valley has been named one of America’s 100 Best College Buys — and ours is the only Michigan university on the list. Grand Valley’s tuition is, and has been, consistently below the state university average while our careful financial management has enabled us to reduce operating costs per degree by 15 percent.
Grand Valley was created to fill the need for public higher education in West Michigan. With Michigan public university enrollment at an all-time high, we disagree with those who think the campuses are overbuilt. We hope to need more room in future years. Michigan is a state where not nearly enough high school students continue their education after graduation.
For those who think new buildings at Grand Valley are driving costs, let us say how grateful we are for our generous givers in West Michigan whose gifts have made our newest facilities possible without increasing the burden on students or taxpayers.
Grand Valley is clear on its mission, established 50 years ago by its founders and maintained since by dedicated trustees: a high quality public university accessible to qualified students, responsive to regional needs, with affordable tuition, private-sector job creation, and value for taxpayers. Let’s work together to figure out how we can continue these outcomes for future generations of Michigan residents.
Noreen K. Myers is chair of the Grand Valley State University Board of Trustees. Thomas J. Haas is president of GVSU.