University President Mary Sue Coleman’s Christmas letter to President Barack Obama was a bit more pointed than the average holiday card.

Following the release of an open letter to Obama last month, in which Coleman outlined suggestions for making higher education more affordable, White House and University officials expressed appreciation for her efforts. Though Occupy U-M protesters have expressed discontent with the University’s tuition policies in the past, they similarly lauded the letter as a progressive start, despite not agreeing with all of Coleman’s stances.

In the letter, Coleman discussed four ways to keep higher education affordable and accessible for more American families, including an increase in private donations to universities, increased partnerships with private businesses, greater philanthropic donations and further budget restraints at the institutions.

“Higher education is a public good currently lacking public support,” Coleman wrote. “There is no stronger trigger for rising costs at public universities and colleges than declining state support.”

White House Director of Social Media Shin Inouye wrote in a Dec. 28 statement to The Michigan Daily that the Obama administration “appreciates” Coleman’s commitment to the issue and will continue to work with university presidents in the future to manage costs.

“The President and his administration have already taken many steps to make college more affordable, including acting to reduce monthly payments for students, double funding for Pell grants and creating a $2,500 tax credit to help pay for school,” Inouye wrote.

Coleman also wrote in the letter that the state cut 15 percent of the University’s funding last year—amounting to a 30-percent reduction over the last decade. She added that the cuts are not unique to Michigan, and that many public universities and colleges across the country share similar problems.

Specifically, she noted how underfunding of the higher education system in California has led to the rapid “dismantling” of institutions admired around the world.

The University has tried to follow the principles outlined in Coleman’s letter in recent years, University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said in a Dec. 22 interview. He added that the University has tried to shield student costs as much as possible in the face of budget cuts.

“The University has a commitment to increase financial aid by at least the same percentage that tuition increased,” Fitzgerald said. “In six of the last seven years, financial aid has increased at 10 percent or more. In this year’s budget, centrally awarded financial aid was budgeted at $137 million, which was a record amount.”

Fitzgerald added that Coleman, who also serves as president of the Association of American Universities, sent the letter to Obama in mid-December because she was unable to attend a meeting of university presidents hosted at the White House earlier in the month.

Art & Design senior Ian Matchett, spokesman for Occupy U-M, said he views the letter as a valid start, but doesn’t agree with all of Coleman’s positions.

Specifically, Matchett said he believes Coleman’s goal of increased state funding is the most effective way of maintaining college affordability, adding some of the other goals are unhelpful or even antithetical to Occupy U-M’s beliefs.

“Philanthropy is something that is nice — it happens, but you can’t build a policy around the sporadic goodwill of a minority class,” Matchett said. “You have to build a policy that’s sustainable, whether Bill Gates feels like giving you a million dollars this year or not.”

To showcase its feelings on the issue, last month, the Occupy U-M movement protested against tuition costs at the Board of Regents meeting.

While Matchett said he supports University interaction with businesses, he also believes that the state should increase funding with tax revenue generated from businesses, whether or not the businesses directly benefit from such partnerships.

“You can’t have a business only pay for public education when it benefits (the business) specifically or (when) it sees a direct personal benefit from it,” Matchett said. “Businesses are benefiting from a socially-created wealth.”

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