Snyder recommends increase for University funding in new budget

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Design by Ava Weiner

 

Monday, February 20, 2017 - 8:04pm

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The University of Michigan is slated to receive an overall 2.5 percent increase in funding — a 2.4 percent increase for UM-Ann Arbor, 3.1 percent for UM-Dearborn and 2.8 percent for UM-Flint — as a part of Gov. Rick Snyder’s recommended budget for the 2018 fiscal year.

Snyder’s recommendations include an overall state public university funding increase of $36.6 million, bringing total operations funding to nearly $1.5 billion. If the budget is ultimately approved by the legislation, this would mark the seventh straight year state funding for higher education has increased.

At the February Board of Regents meeting, University President Mark Schlissel criticized Snyder’s recommendation, saying it lags behind previous state funding levels the University has received.

“The budget recommendation continues the recent progress of reinvesting in public higher education in our state,” Schlissel said. “However, we keep in mind, when adjusted for inflation, funding still lags well behind 2011 levels.”

The $316.1 million budget recommendation for the Ann Arbor campus is lower than the funding level in 2011, when the state instituted a 15 percent cut to higher education funding.

Cynthia Wilbanks, vice president for government relations, echoed Schlissel’s sentiment in a statement and said the University appreciates the increase in funding, but plans to advocate for a greater amount of funding and more opportunities in the future.

“We appreciate that this budget recommendation continues the recent trend of increased funding for higher education,” Wilbanks wrote. “In the coming months, we will work with the state Legislature to support this increase and explore opportunities to do better, if possible.” 

Conversely, state Rep. Kim LaSata (R–Bainbridge Twp,), chair of the Michigan House Appropriations Subcommittee on Higher Education, said in a statement she is emboldened by the increased investment in higher education and would like to see this funding in Michigan continue to increase to pre-recession levels. LaSata did not respond to interview requests from the Daily.

“I am encouraged by the proposal to invest more money into higher education and will work hard as chair to ensure these dollars are spent in an efficient and fair manner,” LaSata wrote. “Michigan’s colleges and universities have still not fully returned to their pre-recession funding levels and it is my goal to see these institutions made whole again using dollars tied to performance.”

State Rep. Yousef Rabhi (D–Ann Arbor) said in a phone interview he was pleased to see at least a small increase, but said he believes higher education in Michigan is still severely underfunded.

“I’m happy to see at least higher education got a small increase,” Rabhi said. “But the governor cut higher education substantially back like five years ago and if you adjust for inflation, we’re not even close to where we used to be — it isn’t good enough, we can do better.”

In addition to funding increases, Snyder’s budget recommendation also includes a provision to limit any tuition increases to 3.8 percent or $475 per student in order for a university to receive any new performance funding.

In her statement, LaSata said she believes efforts to cap tuition will aid in making college more affordable and accessible

“This will serve to keep tuition increases down and ultimately allow more students to pursue their educational dream,” LaSata said.

Contradicting this idea, Rabhi said he believes this will have a vicious effect on higher education institutions, because he thinks the state is limiting its funding, while also capping tuition increases as ways for universities to receive any additional funding.

“We’re putting our higher ed institutions in a situation where the legislator is capping their tuition increases and also underfunding them at the same time,” Rabhi said. “So they’re really hamstringing the ability of our public universities to provide that high quality of public education that we’ve come to expect.”

LSA junior Enrique Zalamea, president of the University’s chapter of College Republicans, wrote in an email interview he personally doesn’t support massive increases in higher education funding without more specificity and transparency in how Michiganders’ taxpayer dollars are being allocated.

“Federal student aid only accounts for roughly 3% of Michigan’s higher education spending, the majority of the higher education budget actually goes to ‘University Operations,’ ” Zalamea wrote. “Without more transparency, I personally wouldn’t want my taxpayer money going towards university sponsored partisan events or towards the discounted tuition rates of undocumented students.”

In comparison to Zalamea, LSA junior Collin Kelly, chair of the University’s chapter of the College Democrats, wrote in an email interview he unequivocally supports increased higher education funding. Kelly said he believes Snyder’s recommendation is a positive step, but advocates to see more invested in higher education.

“While we are glad this is another positive step in the right direction, we need the state government to go much further in supporting higher education in Michigan,” Kelly wrote. “A 2.4% increase is nice, but that likely won't even be a drop in the bucket for most students, we would strongly urge the legislature and Governor to support our students by increasing funding even more.”