Governor Jennifer Granholm announced a
successful budget deal last Tuesday, saying, “We have emerged with
what I think is the most education-friendly budget in the history
of Michigan.” College students should disagree.

Most state universities face substantial cuts in state
appropriations under the new budget. Giving higher education the
short end of the funding stick is sure to make life more difficult
for the state’s coveted and dwindling college-age demographic. What
happened to the governor’s quest to make Michigan a center of
opportunity for the young and hip?

The University, which will endure an effective 10 percent
decrease in state appropriations under the new budget, has already
raised tuition accordingly. University students will have to bear a
6.5 percent increase in tuition on top of the 7.9 percent increase
the University Board of Regents instituted in 2002. The planned
revamp of the state’s financial aid distribution system, which
overwhelmingly benefits students attending private schools, was
dropped as well. This means that students and their families will
not receive assistance from the governor in order to pay the higher
tuition rates. Even considering that students at private schools
generally need more financial aid because of high attendance costs,
it is the government’s responsibility to make public colleges
affordable to its citizens, not private institutions.

It is bad enough that cuts in appropriations burden students,
but they also amount to poor investment strategy. The University
returns every cent that the state invests and more because of the
tremendous ways in which it benefits the state, so pulling funds
away from that investment seems counterproductive.

While these cuts will prove damaging to the state in both the
short and long runs, Granholm and the Legislature did need to make
some cuts in the budget to avoid a massive deficit. The way the
remaining appropriations have been distributed among the state’s
universities, however, has a strong flavor of politics rather than
one of prudent public policy planning. For example, Grand Valley
State University, located in a primarily Republican area of the
state, received an increase in state appropriations, while the
budget cuts almost all other universities’ funding.

The good news for future college students is that the Merit
Award Scholarship for college-bound high school students will
remain intact at $2,500. Even so, the scholarship could be made
more effective in assisting those who need it most if it were not
based solely on the MEAP, the state’s standardized academic
achievement test. To some degree, the students who score well on
the test are not those most reliant on government assistance to
attend college. Also good news, Granholm’s proposal to start a new
“rainy day” fund for state schools was approved, and a $75 million
deposit has already been authorized by the state Legislature.
Hopefully, the savings fund will cushion education against further
budget pinches in the future. And even though state universities
are forced to buckle down, the new budget promises to keep the
important task of elementary education relatively well financed.
Preschool and early childhood education funding has been restored
to $78.8 million.

Despite some of these positive nuggets, such large cuts hinder
universities’ ability to create jobs, fund research and spend. The
Life Sciences Corridor, for example, will receive $5 million in
extra funds, but even with this, it is not receiving anywhere near
the $50 million a year originally promised. The work that
universities do to improve society, of which their contribution to
the Life Sciences Corridor is just one example, is too important to
shortchange in this way.

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