Although state and national economic challenges dogged much of her tenure, University President Mary Sue Coleman collaborated with policymakers, business sectors and private donors to mitigate funding cuts University funds and avoid large tuition increases for students.

In 2002, the same year Coleman took office, the Michigan state government began cutting funding for public universities in light of an economic downturn caused by challenges in the auto industry.

After years of budget cuts by the state, funding took a massive hit in 2012 when the federal government’s stimulus appropriation ceased, resulting in a 15 percent reduction in state university funding from its original budget of $363 million.

In 2002, state appropriations accounted for 34 percent of General Fund revenues, but by 2013, they accounted for just 16 percent of the funding stream.

In these times of economic hardships within the state and federal governments, Coleman made consistent efforts to lobby legislatures to keep funding higher education, Cynthia Wilbanks, vice president for government relations, said.

Coleman, along with other Big Ten university presidents, petitioned policymakers to keep funding universities as a priority on the premise that college graduates will help fill vacant jobs and improve the economy in the long run.

“She made trips to Lansing every single spring to talk about the University, to talk about the need for investment, to make the case that case that every sector of society needed to do its part to make sure it was spending wisely,” Wilbanks said.

In 2011, for instance, Coleman wrote an open letter to President Barack Obama urging not only the state and federal governments to maintain their support for higher education, but all sectors of society, including business leaders, philanthropists and parents, to collaborate to keep college affordable.

“As a former college professor, you know the rewards of seeing students grow intellectually, exercise critical thinking, and begin to shape their communities,” she said in the letter. “This transformative experience of higher learning contributes to the overall wellbeing of our nation.”

True to her word, Coleman reached out to other areas in search of funds for the University, including private donors.

As the state economy began to recover, state support for the University has risen modestly. This year, Republican Gov. Rick Snyder increased university funding by 6.1 percent, the largest percentage increase in over a decade. As government funding increases, Coleman’s efforts to collaborate with private donors will provide a solid foundation for years to come.

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