Commentary: College Funding Key to Future

Commentary: College Funding Key to Future

March 22, 2012/Detroit News


By Glenn D. Mroz


Twenty years ago, I listened as former Michigan Technological University President Dale Stein adroitly pointed out a likely outcome of a key state investment priority — if you don't like the cost of education you surely aren't going to like the cost of ignorance.


I recently represented Michigan's university presidents in a joint presentation with Business Leaders for Michigan in delivering that same message to the Michigan Senate Higher Appropriations committee.


As the BLM leaders — who represent companies accounting for more than a trillion dollars in sales and a quarter of Michigan's gross domestic product — noted, we have shifted our state priorities over the last decade from higher education to locking up criminals.


Today, the state's spending on corrections nears $2 billion, and has increased every year this decade. After a decade of cutting, state spending on higher education is down to $1.1billion. Michigan is in the bottom 10 in the nation in higher education spending on a per capita basis.


This has happened at a time when the single best indicator of a state's prosperity is the percentage of college graduates in the state's population.

Michigan's public university presidents have joined with the state's business leaders in a simple message: We must prioritize our state's spending in areas that drive economic growth, and our public universities will be the major driver of Michigan's economy going forward.


The Michigan Economic Development Corporation puts the economic impact of Michigan's public universities at almost $40 billion dollars, representing 12.6 percent of Michigan's gross state product. That's an astounding return on investment for $1.2 billion of state spending.


The Business Leaders for Michigan executives and university presidents know this can be even better — but it will require Michigan to begin shifting priorities and reinvesting in higher education.


In fact, BLM has called for Michigan to become a top 10 state in higher education investment, with an additional $1.04 billion in state appropriations — if our universities can show they are worthy of that spending.


To earn that additional support, universities should be in the top 10 as measured against their national peers in areas such as:


Efficiency, including institutional support (administrative costs) as a percentage of total expenditures.

R&D expenditures.


Productivity, including graduation rates, retention rates, degree completions and advanced degrees awarded.


Affordability and access, linking increased state reinvestment in higher education to lower tuition.


Frankly, the facts show Michigan's universities already fare pretty well in these metrics, although there is room for improvement.


Michigan's universities produce 18 percent more science, engineering and math graduates than the national average. We rank 10th nationally in research and development spending, fueling patent development, business startups and ultimately jobs.


Business Leaders for Michigan research shows Michigan's public universities received almost $2,000 less in state funding per pupil than peer states in FY 2009 — and that was before last year's historic 15 percent cut. Michigan's universities have lower administrative expenses than peer states — $2,019 per student, compared to $2,470 per student in peer states.


Universities have been frugal with tuition hikes. Adjusted for inflation, the average increase in tuition has been $400 less than the per student cut in state appropriations. Ten of the state's 15 universities outperform their peers in the number of students receiving Pell Grants.


It took 10 years to get down to the level we're at today, but BLM and university presidents together are ready to work with Gov. Rick Snyder and the Michigan Legislature to gradually move us toward that top 10 status.


There is no higher priority for Michigan. The Lumina Foundation estimates that Michigan will need an additional 1.3 million college graduates to meet workforce demand in 2025. Already, as BLM member and Domino's CEO Patrick Boyle pointed out to the Senate committee, an estimated 70,000 jobs requiring a college degree are going unfilled in Michigan today.


College graduates will power Michigan's economic recovery. In today's knowledge economy, higher education must be a priority.


Michigan's universities are pleased to work hand in hand with our business leaders to make the case and earn the additional funding that is necessary to meet that priority.


Glenn D. Mroz is president of Michigan Technological University and chairman of the Presidents Council, State Universities of Michigan