Increase State's Higher Ed Investment

Increase State's Higher Ed Investment
March 14, 2012/Lansing State Journal

Michigan's deep cuts endanger its economy

Some would argue that economic difficulties have given business interests an open pass to changing state policies to their advantage. They’d put last year’s revamp of the tax code atop that list.

But here’s what some of the state’s most prominent business leaders want now, and it may surprise plenty of lawmakers and a fair share of state residents: more investment in higher education.

Why? Because Michigan faces a shortage of 1.3 million college graduates by 2025. And because Michigan universities get about $2,000 less per student in state support than their peer schools in California, Illinois, North Carolina, Texas and Virginia. To keep its own young people working here — and to attract young, educated workers from other states — Business Leaders for Michigan is advocating strongly for more higher education funding.

Popular thinking among some folks at the Legislature is that universities haven’t faced reality; pay and benefits for faculty and staff is too luxe and tuition is too high. What they don’t realize is that Michigan universities have lower administrative costs than their peers.

Business Leaders’ says Michigan schools spend $2,019 per student on institutional support, compared to $2,460 per student in peer states. When adjusted for inflation, average undergraduate tuition for a state resident increased $3,546 from 2002 to 2011. That’s about $400 less than the $3,970 per student cut in gross appropriations for higher ed.

Even Gov. Rick Snyder, a well-educated and highly successful business leader, hasn’t been as strong an advocate for universities as the business roundtable of the state’s largest employers is shaping up to be. Case in point, last week state officials said Michigan is in line to lose $4.2 million in federal funds because it has cut its higher education spending too much. Snyder’s staff said the state’s budget priorities preclude restoring some $58 million cut in 2010 in order to get the federal funding; instead, Snyder proposed spending an additional $2 million in state funds in an effort to recover part of the federal College Access Challenge Grant funding.

Higher education is a key ingredient in Business Leaders for Michigan’s turnaround plan. Expect to hear more in months ahead. Michigan can’t reach its best future without investing more in higher education. Citizens and lawmakers must understand what’s at stake.

An LSJ editorial