One of Michigan’s important assets is its higher education system. In a knowledge-driven economy, quality education is an economic development tool. For that reason, many business and economic development leaders support better funding to universities.
Yet Michigan too often runs astray. Case in point, several disappointing issues that surfaced in the House Appropriations Higher Education Subcommittee recently.
Under budget plans passed by the subcommittee, Michigan State University would be penalized in fiscal year 2012-13 funding if it does not drop a policy requiring uninsured students to purchase a university health care plan. At the University of Michigan, funding would be cut if the university refuses to provide lawmakers with data about its stem cell research programs.
Michigan must support higher education and reduce distractions that harm it. The issues here are varied.
• On mandatory health insurance, MSU should reconsider. Earlier this year the university said some 700 students enrolled since the policy was adopted had yet to prove they had coverage. (Most continuing undergraduates are exempt; graduate, professional and international students already were required to have coverage.) Those 700 students are 1.5 percent of the school’s 47,000 enrollment. Lawmakers object to the $1,500 added cost. MSU says the national trend is to protect all students by making sure each has access to care. Intentions may be good, but having this fight now is unwise.
• For their part, lawmakers should stop trying to penalize MSU for last year’s tuition increase. Budget Director John Nixon ruled the university did not violate the state’s budget formula; lawmakers should accept that decision. Instead, they want to cut next year’s funding to MSU for any tuition increase above $5. Strong universities are too important to continue this fight.
• On stem cell research, U-M has declined to provide data on its embryonic stem cell research. The Legislature mandated reporting such data as part of last year’s budget bill. Lawmakers should back off. Voters approved a constitutional amendment allowing embryos to be donated for research in 2008. Turning next year’s university funding in to a squabble over an election lost almost four years ago is not advancing higher education in Michigan.
Education boosts development and leads to jobs, which ought to be Michigan’s priority. Set aside these squabbles.
An LSJ editorial