LANSING, Mich. — A proposal to cut state aid to Michigan's public universities has some students worried their tuition bills could go up next fall.
The Republican-led Senate Appropriations Committee is expected to vote as early as Wednesday on budget bills that would cut state appropriations to universities and community colleges by 3.1 percent. That could lead to higher tuition increases or more program cuts next fall than under Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm's budget proposal, which would keep funding sent directly to the universities and community colleges at current levels for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1.
"We want legislators to invest in higher education and students," said Julie Boon, a student at Saginaw Valley State University who is helping to organize a March 25 rally at the state Capitol in support of higher education. "We are taking the time and the money to invest in our future, and we believe that they should be doing the same."
The proposed state aid reduction in the Senate plan would cost the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor more than $10 million, according to an analysis by the nonpartisan Senate Fiscal Agency. Michigan State University would lose more than $9 million, while Wayne State University would lose nearly $7 million.
The reduction at Michigan's 12 other public universities would range from $3.5 million at Western Michigan University to $409,000 at Lake Superior State University.
The Senate is proposing cuts because it is trying to erase a projected $1.7 billion overall budget shortfall for next fiscal year without tax increases. Republican Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop said Tuesday he expects eventually there will be a consensus among lawmakers that cuts must be made.
Granholm has said she won't sign budgets with education cuts, although those comments have focused on K-12 schools. Granholm said Tuesday she would speak with university and community college administrators about their ability to absorb cuts before deciding whether to veto bills that would reduce their funding.
Mike Boulus of the Presidents Council, which represents Michigan's public universities, says schools are studying their options.
"We're cutting, we're eliminating programs with the understanding we're in for some tough times," Boulus said. "Obviously, we don't want to raise tuition more than we have to. We're very sensitive to the affordability issue."
Tuition and state aid typically are the largest chunks of revenue for public universities. When state aid declines, tuition often climbs to help universities make up the difference.
Michigan universities got $2 in state funding for every $1 charged in tuition 30 years ago. Now the ratio has reversed, with tuition making up the bulk of university general funds.
Michigan's average annual in-state, undergraduate tuition at a four-year public university in fall 2009 was $9,784, according to an enrollment-weighted method reported by The College Board. That's up 7 percent from the prior year and more than 50 percent since fall 2004.
Most Michigan universities have significantly expanded their internal financial aid programs to help offset tuition increases and cuts to state-based scholarship programs in recent years.
Boulus said it's too soon to guess what tuition increases might be for next fall. Rates typically are locked in over the summer.
Private school students also have a stake in the Michigan budget debate. Granholm has proposed eliminating a $32 million tuition grant program that helps needy students pay their bills. The Senate doesn't want to cut that program.
Associated Press Writer Kathy Barks Hoffman contributed to this report.