State funding for colleges vital

State funding for colleges vital
Crain's Detroit Business

August 3, 2009

Michael A. Boulus, Executive Director, Presidents Council State Universities of Michigan


Keith Crain has joined the list of those who seem to have given up on the vision of Michigan as a great state and is ready to accept our current second-rate status.

That can be the only explanation for his recent column calling for cutbacks at our state's most important economic development engine, our public universities.

Tuition increases at our universities this decade have been driven by reductions in state support — reductions created by tax cuts put in place in the late 1990s. Those tax cuts have not created the economic prosperity promised, but have been the major driver of this decade's state fiscal crisis.

In fiscal year 2001, the state spent $1.615 billion on Michigan's public universities. In fiscal year 2008, that figure was $1.581 billion. If we had just adjusted the 2001 figure for inflation, the state would have spent $1.954 billion on higher education last year. Adjusted for the influx of students that Michigan universities have encouraged, and state funding should be well over $2 billion today, and tuition would be significantly lower.

State funding cuts have left public universities with two choices. They can become mediocre and lose the luster that has kept our best and brightest here and attracted the best minds in the world to our state. Or they can cut as much as they can but raise tuition as needed to keep their high quality, painful as that may be for some students.

Our university boards of directors and their management teams have decided it is more important to maintain excellence and prepare Michigan's workforce for the coming economic recovery — which will be driven by workers with four-year degrees — than to take the politically popular route of dismantling higher education.

Our state highway system, once highly regarded, tells us what happens when we stop paying for what we want. Public universities are even more vital to our state's economic transition than our freeways. Just as Crain's Detroit Business has supported new taxes for roads, it should be supporting additional investment for higher education — from any source possible.

Posted on Monday, August 03, 2009 (Archive on Sunday, August 30, 2009)
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