Universities Cry Foul over Gov. Rick Snyder's Plan that Cuts Funding, Tries to Restrict Rising Tuition Increases

Universities Cry Foul over Gov. Rick Snyder's Plan that Cuts Funding, Tries to Restrict Rising Tuition Increases
March 23, 2011/Booth Newspapers

By Peter Luke

Day 81: This is one in a series of posts assessing key developments during Gov. Rick Snyder's self-imposed 182 days to chart a new course for Michigan by July 1. For earlier posts go to mlive.com/stateofchange.

Gov. Rick Snyder’s higher education budget that ties additional state aid to tuition restraint violates the constitutional autonomy of Michigan’s 15 public universities and fails to treat the schools like the unique institutions they are, school officials are telling lawmakers during budget hearings.

Eric Gilbertson, president of Saginaw Valley State University, today was the latest, telling a Senate committee hat Snyder’s proposed spending plan is based on the “simplistic notion that one size fits all.” And in doing so, particularly punishes growing universities like SVSU that have sought to keep tuition low.

The 2012 budget recommendation cuts state aid to universities by $305 million, or 22 percent. It creates a new, segregated $83 million fund that would reduce the cut to 15 percent for schools that keep next fall’s tuition increase to less than 7.1 percent. That limit equals average statewide tuition growth over the past five years.

University officials fear that that fund will be permanent, thus giving lawmakers an annual say in how much tuition can grow.

Gilbertson says that decision should be reserved for governing boards. One tuition restraint standard, moreover, would be imposed on the schools “irrespective of what their their history is, what their needs are and what their per-student funding from the state is.”

At $7,308 in the current fiscal year, SVSU has the lowest tuition and fees among the 15 schools. “It’s punitive to institutions that have kept their tuition low,” Gilbertson said.

For more than 15 years, schools like SVSU and Grand Valley State University, have sought a per-student funding floor in the appropriations budget that recognizes enrollment growth. SVSU received $4,500 per student in 2001, but just $3,200 in the current budget year. It would get $2,800 under Snyder’s budget, Gilbertson told lawmakers.

In 2001, SVSU’s budget was supported equally by state aid and tuition. In the current year, tuition funds 72 percent of university operations, state aid 26 percent.

State aid reductions over the past decade have occurred even though the stated aim in Lansing has been to boost the number of college graduates in the state, he said. “There’s no state budget support for the expressed policy goal. None.”

Contact Peter Luke at (517) 487-8888 ext. 235 or e-mail him at pluke@boothmichigan.com.