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Mary Sue Coleman, University of Michigan president emerita, returned to campus Monday night to discuss accessibility in public higher education alongside current University President Mark Schlissel.

Schlissel and Coleman joined other panelists to address the goals of the Lincoln Project, a policy discussion headed by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences which aims to consider the implication of reduced state investment in public education and the role of the federal government in funding public research universities. Coleman currently serves as the president of the Association of American Universities, and is a co-chair on the Lincoln Project.

In his welcome and call to order at the event, Schlissel said research universities allow students to engage in interactive and innovative modes of learning.

“At a research university, your children learn from faculty that are creating new knowledge,” Schlissel said. “They’re defining what the current limits are of human knowledge and what the next questions to be answered are. Students get to participate in the act of discovery.”

Coleman said the Lincoln Project has cast a light on the importance of public research universities. The Lincoln Project has produced four publications about the importance, shift in funding, economic role and finances of these institutions.

Other panel members included Patrick Doyle, president and CEO of Domino’s; M. Roy Wilson, president of Wayne State University; and Lou Anna K. Simon, president of Michigan State University. The leaders all discussed how investments into public universities serve as fuel for driving the nation’s economy.

In Michigan, Simon said the Lincoln Project highlights why the portion of the education budget that is a part of the research at universities has declined. In 2011, Gov. Rick Snyder (R)  cut state funding to higher education by 15 percent, funding has gone up in small increments since then. In the 2017-2018 fiscal year recommendations, Snyder recommended increasing higher education allocation to pre-2011 levels. 

Doyle, who also serves as the chair of the board of directors for the Business Leaders of Michigan, said public higher education is worthy of investment because of the economic development that comes out of such institutions. He said students who receive four-year degrees earn more than students who receive two-year degrees, who in turn receive more than students who receive high school degrees.

“We believe that the research and knowledge that is being generated from the universities is critical to economic growth in the country as economies become more and more about knowledge and potentially less about making things,” he said.

Wilson said intertwining real-world business experiences with an academic background provides a newer, integrated way of thinking. In particular, he pointed to a recent $40 million donation to Wayne state from Detroit business moguls Mike and Marian Ilitch to help build the Mike Ilitch School of Business. Mike and Marian Illitch are the parents of University regent Denise Illitch (D-Bingham Farms).  

“All the publicity has been about the Mike Ilitch School we are putting right next to the Red Wings Stadium, but what I’m excited about is the curriculum because we’ve talked to the Ilitch’s about creating a curriculum that focuses on entertainment and sports,” he said. “How do you protect some inches of change that in other periods of time in our society people knew were going to be really valuable beyond a formulaic definition?”

Coleman said the Lincoln Project will be releasing its final recommendations on what in a few days.

“The final recommendations will be presented on April 7 in Washington D.C., but we wanted to have a discussion today about the ways in which these public institutions are well-integrated into the intellectual infrastructure of the country,” Coleman said. “And why keeping the intellectual infrastructure of the country strong is really important.” 

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