In 2013, fourteen Michigan public universities will split $534,700 in state funding that was originally intended for Wayne State University, one of Michigan’s top schools. On September 10, State budget director John Nixon notified Wayne that the university would be forfeiting its performance-based funding due to its 8.9-percent tuition hike for the 2013-14 fiscal year. The state’s performance fund program evaluates all universities by the same measures. Due to the universal standards that the state has set for all universities, Wayne has been unfairly punished for its unconventional approach to education. A funding system based on performance may seem intuitively beneficial by incentivizing improvement; however, the state needs to recognize that all educational institutions are unique and cater to differing populations and these differences should not be penalized.

The state of Michigan participates in a performance pay program that funds schools according to their ability to meet certain criteria, such as graduation rates and STEM degrees earned. The state has $21.9 million to allocate to its 15 public universities — given that the institutions do not increase their tuition by more than 3.75 percent. Since WSU violated this statute, it’s no longer eligible for performance pay for the 2013-14 fiscal year. According to Wayne President M. Roy Wilson in a recent Crain’s Detroit Business article, “The concept of a performance funding system is fine, and I don’t really see any issue with that, but the metrics are particularly important,” he said. “One size does not fit all, and depending on the nature of the metrics you use you can penalize some schools and reward others.”

Wayne contends that their tuition increase was planned and necessary. In an interview with The Michigan Daily, WSU director of communications Matthew Lockwood said, “We knew that we would be raising tuition; this wasn’t news to us. … (the tuition hike) will help us remain on stable financial footing so we can continue to offer the programs and support that our students expect.” With the increased tuition, Wayne State University expects to gain $14 million in revenue this year — far more than the university would gain under Michigan’s performance pay program. Last year, Wayne received the lowest amount of performance funding from the state. By considering criteria such as the six-year graduation rate, Michigan’s performance pay program seems to overlook universities that attract a large number of students who are working part-time and are unable to finish in six years. This is an oversight that unfairly punishes schools that have an unconventional student body.

Since Governor Rick Snyder took office in 2009, the state of Michigan has witnessed an 11.35-percent decrease in state funding for higher education. Universities must resort to tuition increases in order to compensate for these cuts in funding. There is something to be said about the performance pay program that clearly does not represent the students at Wayne. Blanket policies such as Michigan’s performance funding plan do not support low-income students who are working — and studying — to achieve their educational goals.

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