Inside the State Capitol Building in Lansing, University President Mary Sue Coleman stood before members of the state House and expressed excitement for what she jokingly said will be a “little game” against rival Michigan State later this week.
On Tuesday, Coleman addressed the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Higher Education, speaking to policymakers as they prepare to move Gov. Rick Snyder’s proposed budget through the state legislature. For the second consecutive year, the proposed budget includes modest funding increases for public universities and colleges in Michigan after an unprecedented cut his first year in office.
“We have great public universities in our state,” Coleman said. “People are passionate about them. And our excellence goes far beyond basketball and football.”
The budget outlines a 2-percent increase in funds for the state’s public colleges and universities contingent on meeting state standards and limiting tuition hikes. Additionally, the increase in higher education allocations will be included as part of the baseline funding for budget increases or decreases in the years to come.
Coleman and other university presidents are invited to testify before the committee each year after the governor releases the state’s budget.
In the context of looming budget decisions, Coleman detailed the University’s efforts to cut costs and maintain affordable tuition while expanding the quality of educational opportunities.
Coleman said for many students, the cost of attending the University is less than it was four years ago and the U.S. Department of Education rated the University as an institution with one of the slowest rates of growth in cost of attendance. She also said the University has cut $235 million in costs over the past decade, all while continuing to recruit the best faculty, launch new academic initiatives and uphold a strong commitment to financial aid.
“Only one (University) budget item is sacrosanct and that is financial aid; here we are adding dollars,” Coleman said. “This year alone, we invested $137 million for financial aid. We are very, very deliberate when targeting savings on campus — the kind of precision you might experience in an advanced course in nano-engineering or microsurgery.”
Discussing the significance of support from alumni donors, Coleman said while the administration has not yet set a goal for the University’s next capital campaign, the effort will focus on financial aid.
“I do not want to lose a single talented high school senior — someone who one day may unlock the mysteries of Alzheimer’s or develop the next-best computer technology,” Coleman said. “I don’t want our best and brightest to forgo the University of Michigan because of perceived costs.”
With four years until the University’s bicentennial in 2017, Coleman said the anniversary provides an opportunity to reassert the crucial nature of public higher education in the state’s consciousness.
“The high-growth jobs of the future — the industries that will push our state forward — will require higher education degrees or specialized training,” Coleman said. “And a university is specifically designed to challenge young people, build their skills and develop critical thinking so they can address the challenges and problems of the day.”
University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said the remarks also provided Coleman the opportunity to further strengthen the relationship between universities and state legislators.