The budgetary fiasco orchestrated by the state at the beginning of this fiscal year caused wide-spread disgust and doubts about the legislature’s ability to do its job. In a recent attempt at redemption, the state Senate passed a 3 percent budget increase for Michigan’s public universities. But while boosting higher education funding across the board is commendable, the Senate has failed to account for the current state of the economy. If the legislature truly wants Michigan to recover from its economic troubles, special consideration must be given to the research universities so vital to Michigan’s vulnerable economy.
At a mere 1 percent, last year’s spending increase was meager at best. The change proposed this year, which has been passed by the state Senate and is headed to the House, would increase funding for state-run universities by 3 percent. However, it allocates all of the state’s universities the same funding increase as the others.
Michigan is currently in a strange and unique limbo as its economy changes. It is the duty of the legislature to encourage the economy to shift from its long-standing dependency on the automotive industry to a focus on knowledge-based endeavors like innovative research. But this transformation can only occur if the state enables its three major research universities to build the skilled workforce and conduct research that will provide a new foundation for Michigan’s future.
By virtue of their role in educating tomorrow’s workforce, all universities are worthy beneficiaries. However, as Gov. Jennifer Granholm suggested in her February proposal to distribute funding based on a series of factors including research, Michigan’s three research universities deserve larger appropriations because of their additional, integral functions within society. The University of Michigan, Michigan State University and Wayne State University therefore merit a separate bill to allocate their higher levels of funding.
Lumping all of the state’s universities onto a single bill with uniform funding increase ignores the larger role research universities play. In addition to strengthening the state’s workforce, the research universities attract new businesses, innovative minds and, therefore, much-needed profits. With these extra responsibilities, the research universities require extra money. So far, this plan has not come to fruition, but there is still potential for the state House to pass separate bills like it did last year.
Though the state legislature still has a lot of ground to make up from its botched handling of the budget, it has at least returned some of the money due its universities. Now it is the University’s responsibility to use that money wisely. Maybe it could start by safeguarding against another tuition hike in the coming years.