By Chris Andrews
You probably didn’t know this about Michigan’s public universities:
* The University of Michigan’s 90 percent graduation rate is 22 percentage points higher than the average at peer institutions.
* Michigan State University’s 126-1 student-to-administrative staff ratio is nearly twice as high as peer institutions.
* Central Michigan University’s state aid of $3,699 per student is just slightly more than half of its peer average.
* Thirteen of Michigan’s 15 public universities are above their peer median in producing degrees in critical skill areas, but 13 of the 15 are below their peer average in state support.
And finally, one thing you may have guessed about Michigan public universities: You’re paying more to attend most of them than residents of other states pay to attend their state-supported colleges.
Those are just some of the findings revealed at a new website launched by Business Leaders for Michigan Wednesday that lets parents, students and policy-makers know how Michigan’s public universities stack up among each other and their national peers in affordability, efficiency, state aid and economic impact.
The site, called Michigan’s Performance Tracker for Public Universities, provides a dashboard with data on 30 metrics such as overall cost of attending a university, graduation rates and expenditures. It also shows how the state, as a whole, compares nationally in areas such as state funding and college degrees.
The data make a strong case for pumping additional money into higher education as an investment in the state’s economic future, said Doug Rothwell, president and CEO of the organization, before a joint session of the House and Senate appropriations subcommittees on higher education.
“Michigan today ranks fifth in total degrees produced and fourth in critical skills degrees produced, but unfortunately 37th in state appropriations per student,” Rothwell said. “It is our hope that this dashboard will really increase transparency and show the kind of return that the state is getting for its investment in state universities.”
Business Leaders for Michigan is recommending annual increases of $100 million in funding over the next 10 years with a goal of becoming a top-10 state for higher education investment.
The website includes a scorecard for each of the state’s 15 public universities. It shows the annual changes in each category and provides comparisons to peer institutions, as determined by the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education.
For instance, measurements of affordability and access include the average cost for an in-state freshman living on campus and the number of students receiving federal Pell grants, reflecting students from low income families.
Productivity and efficiency metrics include graduation rates as well as the number of degrees awarded — and those in “critical skills” areas, including science, technology, energy and math.
The Presidents Council/State Universities of Michigan, along with Anderson Economic Group, collaborated with BLM in developing the Performance Tracker. Council Executive Director Mike Boulus said the tracker’s data underscore the need for investing in universities after a decade of cuts.
“We excel in producing talent and are performing extremely well in terms of controlling administrative costs and in absorbing inflationary costs,” Boulus said. “What we can’t seem to get a handle on is the declining state support on a per-student basis and its impact on students.”
Higher education funding has been on a downward trajectory. In fiscal year 2001, state universities received $1.91 billion from state sources. In the two most recent years, that figure has been below $1.4 billion. Had the 2001 funding rate been maintained for inflation, universities would be getting $2.53 billion this budget year, not the $1.399 billion budgeted.
An analysis done at Illinois State University found Michigan was no. 11 in the nation for higher education cuts in the budget years 2008 to 2013.
Gov. Rick Snyder has proposed a small increase in his 2014 spending plan to $1.43 billion.
Rothwell said building a more educated and skilled work force is vital to the state becoming a prosperous state with good-paying jobs.
Michigan has its work cut out for it. The state ranks 34th in the percentage of students with at least a bachelor’s degree and 36th in per-capita income, according to the Presidents Council.
Tonya Schuitmaker, R-Lawton and chair of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Higher Education, said the Performance Tracker “will be a very important tool for parents” in determining the right higher education choices for their children.
Chris Andrews is senior editor at Public Policy Associates, Inc. In addition to working as a freelance writer and editor, he teaches journalism at Michigan State University. Andrews was an editor at the Lansing State Journal and a reporter at the Rochester, N.Y., Times-Union.