By Paige Pearcy, Daily News Editor
Published January 12, 2012
In a proposal to the state Legislature yesterday, state Sen. Rebekah Warren (D–Ann Arbor) introduced a plan to decrease the cost for Michigan residents of attending a public university in the state.
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The bill — called Michigan 2020 — calls for the state to individually grant $9,575, the average cost of tuition at a public university in Michigan, each year to all students who previously completed K-12 education at a public school in the state. Students who only attended Michigan public K-12 schools for part of their schooling will receive a percentage of the $9,575.
Warren said the purpose of the legislation is to incentivize students to attend colleges in the state and decrease student debt, while ultimately preventing “brain drain” — the mass exodus of students from the state following graduation.
“It’s sort of our wonderful recognition of, ‘You’re investing in Michigan, we’re going to invest in you as well,’” Warren said.
Michigan 2020 is modeled after the Kalamazoo Promise which launched in 2005, according to Warren. The program offers a four-year scholarship that pays for tuition and mandatory fees at 43 universities in the state, including the University of Michigan, to students who completed grades nine through 12 in Kalamazoo Public Schools.
The announcement of the new plan follows a public letter University President Mary Sue Coleman wrote to President Barack Obama last month advocating college affordability. Coleman wrote that higher education funding should be a priority for state and federal legislators.
“Higher education is a public good currently lacking public support,” Coleman wrote. “There is no stronger trigger for rising costs at public universities and colleges than declining state support.”
University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald wrote in a statement to The Michigan Daily that the University is supportive of initiatives that assist students.
“It's always encouraging when legislators focus on helping Michigan students,” Fitzgerald wrote. “We welcome more dialogue about the best ways to support student success.”
Warren said she hopes the program will prevent students from leaving the state after graduation, since they won’t have to worry about paying off as much debt post-graduation.
“We have so many of our students that get educated here and then leave Michigan to go find a job somewhere else, and I’m really hopeful that a program like this ... will give students the opportunity to stay here in Michigan,” Warren said.
As Michigan has continued to accrue budget deficits over the past decade, the state government has decreased funding to public universities by 65 percent, subsequently driving up tuition costs. Warren said a major initiative of the Michigan 2020 plan is helping to alleviate student debt amassed from state public universities.
Warren said the program would require $1.8 billion per year and can be funded without raising taxes, through initiatives like reallocating a portion of the $34 billion in tax credits the state grants each year to Michigan 2020.
“Our plan is to create a commission that would study those $34 billion in tax credits and look at them and say some of them we might want to keep ... and some of them have not reviewed in years and maybe we don’t want to keep them anymore,” Warren said.
Warren added she is optimistic that Republican Gov. Rick Snyder will approve the plan if it passed through the state House and Senate, since his previous budget and tax code revisions included eliminating tax credits.
“I’m rather hopeful that the Snyder administration would find something like this could be an attractive policy to sort of investigate and see if they could get behind,” Warren said.
State Rep. Mark Ouimet (R–Lyndon Twp.) said while there’s still a lengthy process preceding implementation of the plan — since the legislation has to pass through individual committees and the full state Senate and state House — he is eager to learn more.
“I’m looking forward to taking a look at it and seeing what’s involved,” Ouimet said in an interview yesterday.
LSA and Art & Design junior Ian Matchett, a member of Occupy UM, said he would like to see more information on how the program will be sustained over time, but thinks it’s a big step for the progress of the state.
“Fundamentally, this is something that needs to be dealt with,” Matchett said. “We need to allow students to obtain a public education in Michigan, and that’s something that’s been increasingly out of reach for many people.”