On Friday, presidents of Michigan universities lobbied before state legislators, asking for more funding from the state. The response was less than promising, with Rep. Bob Genetski (R-Saugatuck) wondering aloud if it’s worth funding both Eastern Michigan University and the University of Michigan’s teaching programs if they’re only a few miles away. This attitude from legislators is troubling, because funding decreases will force individual universities to pick up the slack — and the University, for its part, has grown accustomed to passing these costs onto the students. At a time when maintaining the quality and accessibility of a college education is more important than ever, the state and the University must avoid leaving students with the short end of the financial stick.

Michigan universities are facing a proposed 3 percent cut in funding, as part of Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s recent higher education budget proposal. Granholm also called on state universities to freeze tuition, with the hope that federal stimulus money will help to make up the difference. And with the passage of President Barack Obama’s stimulus package, nearly $14 billion will be added to the $16 billion already available in the Federal Pell Grant program.

But even though the federal government has increased funding for Pell Grants, it remains to be seen whether the increase will make a significant difference for students. The extra funds will increase the maximum loan by about $700 and also will increase the number of recipients, while the average allocation of funds will increase by about $200 in 2009-10 and $400 by 2010-11. Additional money for students is always welcome but in the large scheme of things, this will only impact a small number of students.

The extra federal money will have little impact in light of proposed significant funding cuts at the state level. Granholm is in an admittedly tough position, but reducing funding for higher education will be bad for the state economy. Michigan needs a college-educated workforce to carry its economy and industries into the 21st century. The state economy will never catch up if Michigan students are kept out of college because of escalating tuition.

In the past few years, the University’s answer to any budgetary issue has been to raise tuition. Tuition has already gone up a nauseating 34.6 percent in the past four years, and it’s long past time to stop that trend. There are certainly other areas in which the University can pinch pennies without compromising educational integrity, even if the state deals it a decrease in funding. Raising tuition should not be an option for the University at this point — students just can’t afford it, and the cost of tuition is becoming a barrier to attending college.

Provost Teresa Sullivan, foreseeing an outcry from students, has again created a committee with the goal of hearing a student perspective on the issue. But the University administration needs to actually listen to the feedback it receives, and the message from students couldn’t be clearer — tuition must not increase. The administration shouldn’t need a committee to realize this.

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