March 29, 2012/The Grand Rapids PRess
By Thomas J. Haas
ALLENDALE, MI — In the next 60 days, the state legislature and governor will complete work on the higher education budget for 2012-13.
This is no routine task. Every Michigan resident has a stake in the outcome.
For decades, Michigan was a Top-10 state in its support of public higher education. Today, we’re a Bottom-10 state, owing largely to the state’s economic difficulties.
Michigan has no future as a Bottom-10 state — a point clearly made by Douglas Rothwell, president of Business Leaders for Michigan, in an important address in Grand Rapids last week.
Mr. Rothwell’s organization has called on state government to increase taxpayer investment in higher education, but not with status quo budgeting. Rather, Mr. Rothwell wants the state to award funding based on university performance. So does Gov. Rick Snyder, who has proposed a budget plan that provides one-time bonuses to universities with high graduation rates in fields where Michigan employers seek new workers.
To me, both plans should be carefully considered by the members of the House of Representatives and State Senate.
The Business Leaders for Michigan and Snyder proposals are also in sync with the Michigan Constitution, which clearly states that education is to be forever encouraged and that the Legislature must appropriate funds to maintain all of Michigan’s public universities.
Lately, that’s been hard to do as budget resources have dwindled and other priorities have seemed more important to state policy makers.
Sunday’s Grand Rapids Press headline (“Recovery that started in mid-2009 may signal end of a decade-long economic slump”) reports that there are reasons to be optimistic about the Michigan economy. Professors in Grand Valley’s Seidman College of Business concur in this general view.
Now is the time for our state policymakers to review strategic priorities to sustain Michigan’s future.
Given the recent billion dollar disinvestment in higher education in Michigan, tuition rates and student debt are higher here than in most other Midwest states. If we don’t reverse this trend, I share Mr. Rothwell’s worry that too many of our best high school graduates will choose to attend out-of-state colleges — with the risk that those students will never live and work in Michigan.
We cannot allow this to happen.
A vibrant higher education sector is essential to Michigan’s economy. Everyone in Michigan benefits from the economic impact of our great universities.
The Top-10 states with the best economies and talent are those with the most college graduates. Our future depends upon our making this happen in Michigan.
Thomas J. Haas is president of Grand Valley State University.