2021 Legislative Priorities
Priority #1: Enhance State Operating Support for Public Universities to Improve College Affordability
Michigan’s universities are falling behind other states in their ability to meet the needs of students, employers—and our economy.
- The state should increase state operating support for Michigan’s public universities to maintain college affordability.
- Michigan should promote a state higher education funding model that provides sufficient, predictable and sustained public university operating support.
The top policy priority of Michigan’s 15 public universities is for the state to provide sufficient, consistent, and sustained funding for institutional operations in order to keep college affordable for all students, especially those from low- and middle-income backgrounds.
For two decades, the state’s steady disinvestment in public higher education has forced universities to raise tuition. The state’s support for its public universities has been cut by $193.5 million since 2011, adjusting for inflation. State support for all postsecondary education in Michigan on a per-capita basis is only two-thirds of the national average.
Since 2002, the state has cut more than one billion dollars in inflation-adjusted state higher education and student financial aid funding. In 1979, state funding accounted for 70% of Michigan public university operating revenues, with tuition dollars comprising 30%. Today, students and families provide a full 78% of institutional operating dollars. Only 22% of university operating revenues came from the state in 2020.
Michigan ranks second lowest in the Midwest for state higher education operating support per postsecondary student, and a dismal 41st in the nation for state higher education spending as a share of the state budget – at a time when the best paying jobs in highest demand require a college degree.
Currently, the COVID-19 pandemic overshadows every aspect of state funding, with expected cost expenditures and revenue losses to Michigan’s public universities topping $1 billion. State support is more vital now than ever before so that Michigan’s public universities can continue to provide quality education at an affordable price and in a safe manner to meet the needs of our state’s economy.
Priority #2: Increase State Need-based Student Financial Aid to Boost College Access for Students from Modest Backgrounds
Michigan’s less affluent students should have the same ability to earn a higher education degree as students from wealthy families.
- The state should increase state investment in need-based student financial aid programs that promote access for lower-income students.
- The state should boost the share of state financial aid directed to public university students through new investment, not redirection.
Steep cuts to Michigan’s state funded student financial aid programs have diminished the ability for lower-income families to afford a college education, despite tremendous investments by the public universities in the provision of institutional need-based grants. These cuts have led to less affluent students facing higher loans to meet the costs of college, or worse, not attending a university at all.
State financial aid appropriations for university students peaked in 2002 at $262 million. Today they are just about half of that amount, down 62 percent when adjusted for inflation.
Michigan ranked 35th in the nation in 2018 for grant aid per student at just $327, compared to a national figure of $885, according to the National Association of State Student Grant and Aid Programs. Worse, Michigan ranked 39th in the nation for grant aid per capita, coming in at only one-third the national figure.
State student financial aid programs, originally designed to assist low-income students, have shifted to emphasize academic merit over financial need in many states. Need-based aid, if properly devised, actually increases the number of students who can participate in higher education because they would otherwise be unable to afford college costs. Academic merit-based aid, in contrast, tends to go to more well-off students, many who already intend to enroll in college. Merit-based state student grant aid programs are a less efficient use of scarce state resources than need-based aid.
Need-based institutional financial aid, on the other hand, enhances college affordability for thousands of students attending the state’s public universities. As the state has cut need-based aid, universities have stepped up to fill that gap. Recent state pilot programs have used one-time funding to provide free tuition for selected populations at the state’s community colleges without accounting for financial need. These new investments are laudable, but moving forward, all new investments in financial aid should be sustainable and accessible to students enrolled at the state public universities.
Priority #3: Invest in State Capital Outlay and Asset Maintenance to Provide Facilities that Enhance Student Success
To compete for the best students, best faculty and best research opportunities, it’s vital that Michigan universities have high quality facilities.
- The state should support a state capital outlay process that is conducted annually, is consistent and predictable, and provides the public investment needed to ensure continued world-class academics and applied research at Michigan’s public universities.
- The state should reinstitute state payments for infrastructure, technology, equipment, and maintenance for university facilities and infrastructure, helping these institutions lengthen the lifespan and functional utility of the state’s previous investments in campus assets for many more years.
High-quality academic and research facilities are vital to ensuring that Michigan’s public universities remain competitive by continuing to deliver world-class education and creating the knowledge and talent that will power tomorrow’s economy. Constructing technologically and environmentally sophisticated campus facilities requires a financing partnership between the state and its public universities. Capital outlay investments have fallen short over the years. It is important to return to a dependable cycle of a few projects annually to minimize uncertainty and to avoid extended delays in asset maintenance, or the sudden tightening of construction-related labor markets due to multiple institutions planning at once.
To maximize the lifespan of these important state assets, these facilities need to be maintained. The state has not provided infrastructure, technology, equipment, and maintenance (ITEM) grants since 2000, shifting another cost from the state to the universities. That means students’ tuition dollars end up paying for critical campus asset preservation needs; monies that would be better utilized for direct instruction. The state capital outlay process should be conducted annually, be predictable and consistent, scored transparently, and include significant public investment in campus facilities on a regular basis.
For more information on the state universities’ collective policy priorities, including data sources, see MASU’s Michigan Higher Education Public Policy Agenda, viewable online at www.masu.org.