Last Thursday, the University Board of Regents announced that students would pay the price for the state’s incompetence – literally. That price is a 7.4 percent tuition increase, which will supplement the University’s slashed state funding. Despite Michigan’s dire need for a stronger future, Lansing is slowly bankrupting that hope by bankrupting its students.
As the automotive industry struggles, Lansing has rightfully contended that the only way to save Michigan is through education. That’s why in her 2006 State of the State address, Gov. Jennifer Granholm proclaimed, “Hear me loud and clear – I refuse to slash school funding in the middle of this year.” Even after she broke that promise by allowing the state legislature to slash $26 million and “postpone” another $140 million in payments to the state’s universities earlier this summer, lawmakers still promised that everything would be fixed before students were affected.
So much for all the promises. When it comes right down to it, public universities across the state have had to raise tuition because the state can’t solve its fiscal problems. The state passed its problems on to the universities and the universities have now passed them on to the students.
Granholm’s earlier plan to transform Michigan’s economy into a technology-and-knowledge-based economy instead of an economy reliant on a dying automotive industry was the long-term thinking that could save the state. But this is also a plan that requires a substantial effort to improve access to higher education and funding to schools. Instead of following through with this solid plan, Granholm and other state leaders have refused to make the sacrifices that are required to make it work.
Ironically, just along Michigan’s southern border, there is a perfect example of a state willing to make sacrifices for education as its economy struggles. Earlier this month, Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland announced his plans to allocate $350 million in funding for the state’s colleges. Ohio lawmakers decided that this funding will help pay for a two-year freeze in tuition rates at public universities. In addition, the state now offers its students the STEM program, which allows them to receive financial aid totaling up to half of the highest tuition rate to help pay for an education in scientific fields.
If Michigan’s leaders really want to create a knowledge-based economy, they need to put their money where their mouth is.