April 15, 2012/Detroit Free Press
Shame on Gov. Rick Snyder and lawmakers for the way they're treating Michigan's universities.
After cutting university budgets by 15% for the current fiscal year, Lansing's elected officials plan to add back only 3% to university funding -- and to make universities perform to various benchmarks to get it.
Moreover, the new money would be considered a onetime grant. That keeps this year's appallingly low level of spending the baseline going forward, so the next governor who faces financial problems will find it easy to drop the onetime funding, whatever level it may be at the time, and then cut the baseline even more.
This is no way to ensure stability for what in many cases are Michigan's premier institutions. Some are national, even global, beacons of learning; all offer a credible education to those seeking the learning and credentials to get ahead in their chosen field or simply increase their knowledge.
The one principle that has generally united this state has been to prioritize education and to keep pushing more students into post-high school learning, be it a skills certificate or occupational license, an associate's degree from a community college or a four-year college degree.
But Michigan can hardly claim to have its money where its mouth is these days.
The less the state spends on higher education, the more tuition has to rise, shutting some students out and loading others up with unconscionable amounts of debt.
The financial advantage of a four-year degree may soon disappear as it is diminished by a lifetime of loan payments.
If the governor and lawmakers want universities to meet certain benchmarks -- and even that is questionable given the autonomy granted to universities in the state Constitution -- they should first restore university funding to a level that allows the schools to hold tuition steady for several years, or even cut it.
Besides, if state support keeps dwindling, universities aren't going to care much what lawmakers say anyway.