University of Michigan campuses will see a slight increase in funding under the state budget Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed into law on Monday.
The budget includes $322.8 million for the University’s Ann Arbor campus, a 0.6 percent increase from the previous fiscal year, with $26.3 million allocated for U-M Dearborn and $23.9 million for U-M Flint, 1 percent and 1.3 percent increases respectively. The funds contain a stipulation that tuition for in-state undergraduates does not increase by more than 4.4 percent or $587, depending on which is the larger amount.
The budget is the result of a months-long standoff between Whitmer and Republicans in the state legislature over the governor’s signature campaign promise to fix Michigan’s worn down roads and infrastructure.
Whitmer signed the budget for fiscal year 2020 hours before the deadline to fund the government and avoid a shutdown. She issued 147 line-item vetoes to slash $947 million from the 16 budgets sent to her desk. The cuts included $38 million in higher education tuition grants for private colleges and universities in the state and $150,000 for a program that supports students who are pregnant or parenting children.
In a video posted to Twitter on Monday night, Whitmer explained why she made the cuts.
“I took my role as governor very seriously,” Whitmer said in the video. “I had to use the line-item veto to try to clean up budgets that were a complete mess, built on phony numbers, using funds in the wrong way, usurping executive power. These are important things that I had to eliminate from these budgets. I’m always going to put the safety and the health and the welfare of the people of the state of Michigan before anything else.”
Whitmer said while she was glad to avoid a government shutdown, “our work is not done,” and added that “there’s more to come.”
State Rep. Yousef Rabhi, D-Ann Arbor, said the budgets that made it to Whitmer’s desk fell short compared to the proposal Whitmer first offered in March, which called for a 3 percent increase in funding to Michigan colleges and universities while capping tuition hikes at 3.2 percent.
“The governor proposed a budget with funding that was a lot higher than what the House ended up sending her, and I was disappointed to see that,” Rabhi said. “I was very supportive of the governor’s budget as she initially introduced it, I think that the increase that she had included was still even not enough, but way better than the 1 percent, or in some cases, less than 1 percent increase that the legislature gave, which to our 15 public universities, in my beliefs, is completely unacceptable.”
In a statement, Cynthia Wilbanks, vice president for government relations, also said she found the approved budget disappointing.
“We know that in order for our state economy to be strong, we will need a more educated workforce in the years to come,” Wilbanks said. “Unfortunately, this budget falls short in addressing our state’s pressing need and shifts even more of the cost burden to our students and families.”
Rabhi said the governor’s decision to veto certain items was a result of her limited options.
“Part of the issue that Governor Whitmer was facing is that she can only veto items and move funding around within a departmental budget,” Rabhi said. “But she cannot add funding to a departmental budget, so she was not able to add any money. She was basically faced, I think, with the decision of do we want to eliminate all funding to our universities and renegotiate it, or do we take what we can get for now, and negotiate for more later.”
Rabhi said Democratic lawmakers wanted a larger increase in funding for higher education funding.
“I wanted more money,” Rabhi said. “I ultimately voted no on the higher education budget, because I wanted to send a strong message and the rest of the Democratic Caucus wanted to send a strong message I think it was, you know, near-unanimous within the Democratic Caucus, that we were opposed to the higher education budget as it was presented.”
The budget kept funding constant for two financial aid programs utilized by University students: the Michigan Competitive Scholarship, which supports students with a qualifying score on the ACT or SAT who have demonstrated financial need, and the Tuition Incentive Program, which benefits students of lower socioeconomic status with tuition assistance. Each of the programs received $6 million in additional funding last year.
Public Policy junior Camille Mancuso, communications director for the University’s chapter of College Democrats, said the state failed to meaningfully invest in post-secondary education.
“While the state of Michigan has increased funding for U-M, there is still an apparent lack of meaningful investment in higher education,” Mancuso said. “The University’s tuition has increased over the past years, and there remains significant inequities between funding granted to U-M Ann Arbor compared to U-M Flint or U-M Dearborn.”
The Board of Regents approved a budget for the University in June based in part on expected state funds, which they calculated would be $375.9 million. The actual amount of state funding — a total of $373 across the University’s three campuses — falls short of that project, leaving a revenue gap for the University to address.
Rabhi framed funding decisions for universities as an issue of accessibility.
“Regardless of where you live in the state of Michigan or how much money you make, it’s important that our universities do serve everyone,” Rabhi said. “Now that should be, in my opinion, a call to action for universities to ensure that they focus on accessibility so that every student in the state of Michigan feels that they can draw value from our 15 universities in the state of Michigan. They should serve everyone.”
A representative from the University’s chapter of College Republicans declined to comment