LANSING — University President Mary Sue Coleman addressed the Lansing Regional Chamber Economic Club Thursday about the importance of public research institutions of higher education as federal and state support dwindles.
The Lansing Regional Chamber Economic Club is devoted to enhancing economic growth and professional development across the state, according to the club’s website. The group hosts many guest speakers each year to provide diverse perspectives on issues facing the state.
Coleman called upon attendees to understand the significance of higher education in the state’s development.
“It’s the single most driving force,” Coleman said. “It’s why we choose to work here, to develop our careers and learn more.”
In her speech, Coleman cited a report that revealed states are spending 28 percent less on college students than in 2008. However, Gov. Rick Snyder’s (R) budget proposal for the 2015 fiscal year will increase state appropriation for public higher education institutions by 6.1 percent — the largest increase in state funding since 2001. The club hosted Snyder in 2011, garnering nearly 850 guests.
Coleman lauded Snyder’s budget proposal, adding that it will expand the state’s national impact drastically.
“We have a chance here in Michigan to recapture national leadership with the growth of our public universities,” Coleman said. “I firmly believe that states that do not invest in higher education will not win the 21st century, and I want desperately for Michigan to win.”
Cost-containment and affordability were highlighted several times in Coleman’s speech as she described several of the University’s primary goals for the future.
To help accomplish these aspirations, the University launched the Victors for Michigan fundraising campaign with a $4 billion goal — $1 billion of which will be dedicated solely to student financial aid. In the world of higher education, the campaign remains one the largest fundraising endeavors of its kind. Harvard University is in the middle of its ambitious $6.5 billion fundraising drive.
“It’s tremendously important for young people today and tomorrow to get a great college education without worrying about taking on debt that’s going to stomp on their career path in the future,” Coleman said.
Coleman also mentioned President Barack Obama’s visit to Michigan State University Feb. 7 to sign the farm bill, which will expand federal crop insurance. She added that the choice to sign the bill in Michigan serves as an example of the significance of public research institutions in the national sphere.
“Leading public research universities play a role in the health of our country,” Coleman said.
Before her speech, Matthew Anderson, the sales and marketing manager for Hager Fox Heating and Air Conditioning Co., lauded Coleman for her philanthropic efforts during her tenure.
Coleman has consistently donated her salary increases back to financial aid each year. Additionally, Coleman and her husband Kenneth Coleman donated $1 million in October toward global scholarships as part of the fundraising campaign.
Several University officials attended the event, including Lisa Rudgers, vice president for global communications and strategic initiatives.
The Economic Club previously hosted MSU President Lou Anna Simon at its luncheon Jan. 28. Deborah Muchmore, vice president of the Marketing Resource Group and chair of the Economic Club, said the group hopes to learn from Coleman and Simon about the status of higher education, specifically in the state of Michigan.
“These schools play a vital role here, not just locally, but statewide and around the world,” Muchmore said. “We have taken this opportunity to put a spotlight on these two leaders who are absolutely exceptional, remarkable leaders.”
As University President-elect Mark Schlissel prepares to fill her shoes this summer, Coleman also mentioned plans for her upcoming retirement.
Despite working in her role for 12 years, Coleman doesn’t plan to take much of a break.
“I won’t by lying on a beach anywhere,” she said jokingly.
Once she leaves, Coleman will co-chair a project for the American Academy of Arts and Sciences focusing on the significance of public research universities. She will also serve on the board of several foundations, including as a member of the National Institute of Health’s advisory council. Currently, Coleman serves on the board of directors of Johnson + Johnson, which she joined in 2003.
As for her future in Ann Arbor, Coleman plans to get a condo in town so she can visit in the fall for football games.