December 17, 2011/Detroit News
By Kim Kozlowski
Escalating costs are making higher education inaccessible, and it is time to resolve the issue, University of Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman wrote in an open letter to President Barack Obama.
"College is costly — too costly for some families," Coleman wrote in the letter, which was published on U-M's website on Friday. "To meet the myriad needs of students and society, we absolutely must find ways to provide a college education at a cost that is sustainable.
"President Thomas Jefferson was rightfully adamant that a cornerstone of democracy is education for all 'from the richest to the poorest.'"
Coleman was invited to a private meeting earlier this month with Obama, Education Secretary Arne Duncan and presidents of other universities to address the cost of a college education. But Coleman, chairwoman of the Association of American Universities, was unable to attend due to her schedule, spokeswoman Laura Lessnau said. The letter was a follow up.
It came the day after a group of students "occupied" the beginning of the University of Michigan's Board of Regents meeting, blasting officials for tuition increases of 233 percent since 1990 to about $12,000 a year for in-state undergraduates. They group called on regents to make education more accessible and affordable."There once was affordable public education. Today there is only an expensive commodity," protesters said.
In her letter, Coleman said that higher education is a public good lacking public support.
She pointed to Michigan's divestment in higher education, including the 15 percent cut in the last year and a reduction of more than 30 percent over the last decade for U-M and the state's 14 other public universities.
For states not to invest is shortsighted, she wrote. She suggested that businesses advocate for consistent state funding since they have a vested interest in the research and talent to stay globally competitive.
But she also said that universities must look to alumni and friends for support since private support is a necessity, not a luxury.
She also said that the university must continue to cut costs.
"How we resolve this dilemma requires collaboration, sacrifice and hard choices," Coleman wrote.
Mike Boulus, president of the Presidents Council, State Universities of Michigan, said Coleman's comments come at a time when higher education in Michigan and the United States "is at a crossroads."
"Our state invested in creating one of the finest groups of universities in the nation and indeed, the world, over the last 50 years," Boulus said.
"Higher education was properly recognized as a public good. Today it is even more of a public good - everyone in society benefits when a highly educated work force attracts the jobs of the 21st century, even those who choose not to attend college."