Guest Column: GVSU is Economic Development Engine for Michigan

Guest Column: GVSU is Economic Development Engine for Michigan
January 10, 2011/The Grand Rapids Press

By Thomas J. Haas

A new team has taken charge in Lansing, elected to balance the state budget and chart a new course for 21st century job creation. Grand Valley State University has made a New Year’s resolution to do everything in our power to help lead Michigan to a more prosperous future. In fact, we are already well on our way.
thomas haas.jpgThomas Haas

I am heartened by Gov. Rick Snyder’s comments about the importance of education and the role it must play in our future. The governor recognizes that the states with the best economies are those with the most college graduates. It follows, then, that we should redouble our efforts to encourage Michigan’s high school students to continue their education after graduation.

Michigan’s colleges and universities must be able to admit and graduate additional students even as state lawmakers face budget woes that may make college expansion challenging. It can be done. During the past decade, Grand Valley State University increased enrollment by 50 percent and the number of degrees awarded by 100 percent. At the same time, we reduced our cost of operation per degree by 15 percent. How did we do this? By focusing on efficiency, excellence and outcomes.

Of the 15 public universities in Michigan, Grand Valley’s retention rate is third best; our graduation rate — which exceeds the state and national averages — is fourth best. Our tuition is below the state average. Our financial aid program reduces the cost of attendance for the average student by more than $3,500 a year and helps to reduce time to graduation. Ninety-two percent of our recent graduates are employed or attending graduate school; of those working, 88 percent are pursuing their careers here in Michigan.

We are mindful of the difficulties faced by taxpayers, our students, and their families. We understand that they expect us to use resources wisely and be accountable. We have cut millions from our operating budgets, avoided new expenses, instituted a campus-wide salary freeze, cut benefits, and restrained employment levels.

Our health insurance cost per employee is 25 percent less than the state of Michigan spends to cover its employees; our employees share 20 percent of the cost. Pension costs, per employee, average 10 percent. These are outcomes that some have suggested should be required of all government agencies in the future. Grand Valley is doing them today.

Grand Valley is an economic development engine for the State of Michigan. We are responsible for more than $650 million in annual economic activity and for creating more than 10,000 private sector jobs in the communities that host our campuses. Public/private partnerships enabled us to build two superb research centers in Muskegon — the Lake Michigan Center, focusing on water resources, and MAREC, the Michigan Alternative and Renewable Energy Center. These research centers and other efforts, begun in the 20th century, create knowledge essential to 21st century jobs.

In this, our 50th anniversary year, we will do all we can to partner with governmental leaders in Lansing who want a better future for our citizens and our state. This is not just a New Year’s resolution. It is my promise.

Thomas J. Haas is president of Grand Valley State University.