March 14, 2012/Mlive
By Dave Murray
LANSING – State university leaders are upset their federal assistance is being cut by $4.2 million, placing blame on a Legislature responsible for a “dark decade of disinvestment” in the 15 public universities.
Michigan and Alabama are being singled out by President Obama for cutting support to universities, saying the states did not comply with a federal rule requiring them to provide consistent funding.
The states are facing loss of their College Access Challenge Grants, which is aimed at helping low-income families with academic counseling, financial aid and other assistance.
Obama raised concerns about state contributions to university budgets during his State of the Union address, and again at the University of Michigan. He called families attempts to pay rising tuition “daunting.”
“It’s not enough for us to increase student aid,” Obama said in the State of the Union. “We can’t just keep subsidizing skyrocketing tuition; we’ll run out of money. States also need to do their part, by making higher education a higher priority in their budgets. And colleges and universities have to do their part by working to keep costs down.”
The $4.2 million cut will hurt, university leaders said, though Gov. Rick Snyder has promised to replace $2 million.
But the bigger issue is that the state has cut funding for the schools over the last 10 years, said Mike Boulos, executive director of the Presidents Council, State Universities of Michigan.
“This is a result of the dark decade of disinvestment,” he said. “This is something that happened over multiple administrations and Legislatures. The truth is that we still spend more on corrections than we do on the universities.”
Boulos said there is direct, dollar-per-dollar connection between cuts in state aid and tuition increases.
Lawmakers last year cut 15 percent from university assistance. According to Senate Fiscal Agency reports, state contribution to higher education budgets dropped from $1.9 billion in 2001-2002 to $1.4 billion this year. University of Michigan-Ann Arbor's share was $363 million a decade ago, and is $268 million this year.
University of Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman said she deeply regrets seeing the federal student aid cut – a threat Obama made at her Ann Arbor campus earlier this year.
“I know the state is contesting that, and I think they should,” Coleman said after testifying before a state House Appropriations Subcommittee on Higher Education. “But at the same time, the state needs to be able to show it can sustain its effort to support the universities.”
Grand Valley State University President Thomas Haas, who testified after Coleman, said it’s upsetting that the money will come from a fund that is intended to help students. But he said understands the frustration.
“This $4 million in cuts comes because of $58 million in state cuts,” he said.
Snyder spokesman Ken Silfven said the governor is "always interested in securing as much federal assistance as possible to bolster our educations efforts. However, we’re also committed to a budget that is structurally balanced for the future."
Silfven said given the many other priorities in the budget, and given the commitment to structural balance, "committing an additional $58 million was not a decision that made sense for Michigan."
He said the federal guidelines were clear and "we understood the ramifications of the decision."
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