Pols Trailing Public on Higher Education

Pols Trailing Public on Higher Education

May 19, 2010/Lansing State Journal


Five years ago, polling of Michigan parents lobbed a shocker into the education debate: Only 27 percent deemed a college education "essential" for their children.


A local effort, Keep Learning ... Our Future Depends on It, made that figure a prominent point in its campaign to reform public attitudes about learning.


The message may be getting through to at least some segments of the community.


Enrollment in Michigan's community colleges is at an all-time high. For the 2008-09 academic year, community colleges enrolled 462,585 people, up from 417,422 in 2000-01.


Phil Power of the Center for Michigan recently told the LSJ Editorial Board that applications to Michigan's four-year schools have never been higher, as well.


For last fall's term, Michigan State University received more than 25,000 applications, down
slightly from the year before, but up well from 2003-04 figures.


At the University of Michigan, undergraduate applications have increased, reports the Michigan Daily, to more than 31,000 for the 2010 school year, from 29,965 for the current school year.


Applications do not equal enrolled students, of course. At MSU, fewer than a third of the people offered admission actually enrolled, though the university did exceed 47,000 in total enrollment last fall.


Before Michigan's budget politics went from difficult to toxic, Gov. Jennifer Granholm adopted the goal of boosting the percentage of state residents with college degrees. A commission she authorized to develop plans noted that each year of college attained means 10 percent more in average annual earnings.


But even as enrollments and interest increase, the state of Michigan has driven higher education
policy in an odd direction.


Building on a 30-year trend that has seen state aid move from covering the majority of college costs to about a third of them, the Legislature and Granholm have treated higher education funding as, well, a luxury.


Lawmakers have cut scholarship programs and reduced appropriations by more than 13 percent. The Presidents Council State Universities of Michigan told the Legislature this year that while North Carolina spends $435 per capita in higher ed support, Michigan spends only $258.


And the council noted that between 2001-2007, 10.7 percent of "low education" jobs were lost in Michigan while only 1.7 percent of "high education"
jobs were lost.


It's widely expected that the Legislature will cut higher ed aid for the coming budget year. Could it be that the "Keep Learning" campaign has the wrong
target for its educational campaign?


An LSJ editorial