|Michigan University Presidents want Higher-ed Investment|
The Associated Press
LANSING -- A larger state investment in higher education would boost Michigan's troubled economy and help keep college affordable, the presidents of Michigan's three largest research universities said Tuesday.
The presidents of the University of Michigan, Michigan State University and Wayne State University testified together before a state House subcommittee. Saginaw Valley State University officials testified separately.
Lawmakers are starting the process of determining a state budget that could have wide-ranging impact on the prices Michigan families will pay to send their students to universities next fall.
University of Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman told lawmakers she knows it's a topic of discussion at kitchen tables across the state.
"We know families are concerned about the bottom line, and so are we," Coleman said.
Average in-state, undergraduate tuition at Michigan's 15 public universities has soared more than 40 percent since 2004 in large part because Gov. Jennifer Granholm and state lawmakers have cut state aid going to higher education. Michigan was the only state in the nation to give less public state aid to universities in the 2008 fiscal year than in 2003, according to the annual Grapevine report compiled by Illinois State University faculty.
The average tuition cost in Michigan was $9,079 last fall and so far state officials aren't doing much to prevent another large increase next academic year. Granholm has proposed cutting state aid to universities by 3 percent for the budget year that starts Oct. 1.
The cut could be replaced by money from the federal stimulus package, but Granholm wants universities to freeze tuition rates in exchange for some of the stimulus cash. Michigan, Michigan State and Wayne State officials weren't asked about tuition or a possible freeze during the House subcommittee meeting.
"They didn't ask about it because they know we're early in the process," Michigan State President Lou Anna Simon told reporters afterward. "I think our commitment is to keep tuition as low as possible in the context of the support we receive."
The university presidents say they are trying to keep college affordable and have increased the amount of available financial aid in recent years. But that is made more difficult when state aid is cut. After the committee hearing, the presidents said tuition rates would be substantially lower if Michigan lawmakers had awarded state aid equal to inflation over the past few years.
The universities said they are working together to help create jobs in the state, particularly through their partnership called the University Research Corridor.
The University of Michigan is buying Pfizer Inc.'s former campus in Ann Arbor to expand its health and biomedical sciences research. Michigan State recently was picked by the federal government to build a $550 million nuclear physics facility that could help attract top scientists to the state. Wayne State University has an integral role in developing what is expected to be Michigan's first stem cell commercialization lab.
Wayne State President Jay Noren said that when Michigan's economy is revitalized it will be because of those types of ventures.
"We already are making very significant contributions to economic renewal," Noren said.