Facing a difficult budget crisis, Gov.
Jennifer Granholm proposed a new tuition restriction pledge for the
state’s 15 public universities last week.

Laura Wong

This proposal for 2005 could decrease the amount of state
funding the University receives by 6 percent if it does not agree
to keep tuition increases below the rate of inflation. At a time
when the University’s expenses are rising faster than
inflation, Granholm should not be mandating holding tuition to that
rate.

The program seeks to have public universities voluntarily limit
the increase in their tuition rates this year to help make higher
education more affordable. Under the new plan, any school that
keeps its tuition increase below the current rate of inflation
— 2.4 percent — would receive back 3 of the 5 percent
of state funding that was cut last year. On the other hand, any
school not complying with the program would be penalized an
additional three percent of state funding. While lower tuition is
an important goal, it should not outweigh the basic need of
universities for increased budgets to maintain a high quality of
education.

Five of the state’s 15 public universities already
announced their support for the plan. The University has yet to
take sides on this issue, and is still studying the short- and
long-term effects of both scenarios. Realistically, if University
President Mary Sue Coleman accepts the budget plan and vows to keep
tuition increases below the 2.4 percent watermark, there would be
harsh repercussions for students. With less money, the University
would be unable to fund all of the programs that currently thrive
on campus, helping to make an University education everything that
it has come to mean. As the University loses faculty to other
institutions, the quality of its reputation and programs will
decline.

The tuition-limitation program will also cause a cyclical
problem for universities not able to comply. If a university simply
cannot accept a decrease in its quality of education and will not
keep tuition rates below inflation, it is further penalized for
attempting to maintain academic quality. By this rationale, a
school with budget problems — and the University surely is,
as many of its expenses such as health care skyrocket — will
not be able to participate in the plan and will be reprimanded by
the state government with reductions in funding, thus leading to an
even bigger budget problem. More likely than not, universities
would have to increase tuition dramatically to compensate.

Although this proposal is intended to establish lower tuition
rates — undoubtedly a worthy goal — Michigan’s
institutions of higher education will be forced to suffer to
achieve it. Limiting tuition increases to inflation cannot risk
putting the quality of the state’s universities in
jeopardy.

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