In his State of the State address last month, Republican Gov. Rick Snyder spoke of Michigan’s unacceptable 17 percent college readiness rate among students — nowhere near his 100 percent goal. Unfortunately, Snyder’s apparent dedication to higher education carries little weight in light of his administration’s actions. Last year, the state cut an unprecedented 15 percent in funding to higher education — totaling a nearly 30-percent reduction over the last decade. This move prompted tuition increases at public colleges statewide. Yesterday, the governor unveiled his 2013 and 2014 budget, including a 3.1-percent increase in higher education funding. While Snyder’s renewed investment in higher education was well intentioned, the modest increase is only a drop in a bucket he already poured out.
The budget calls for 60 percent of Michigan residents to have a “degree or credential by 2025.” The 3-percent reinvestment is simply not enough to achieve Snyder’s lofty goal. A competitive education system cannot be sustained or continue to develop without the state’s support.
The proposed budget allocates $36.2 million more to higher education from last year. The University of Michigan, along with Michigan State University, will only receive 1.4-percent increases. The aid will be distributed based on a four-criteria formula: growth in degree completion, the number of degrees in “critical skills areas,” the number of Pell Grant recipients and a curbing of tuition increases.
The burden of increasing higher education accessibility does not fall solely on the state. The measures the budget outlines are important factors institutions should be thinking about. The University has shown leadership in efficiency by working to cut millions from its budget each year. All colleges must seriously evaluate how to restrain tuition increases while providing an excellent education.
The state doesn’t have the power to force changes upon colleges, so it’s instead using aid as an incentive. Snyder’s sentiment is strange — if colleges fail to meet Snyder’s goals, decreased funding would further tie their hands and potentially exacerbate problems.
Tying the distribution of aid to “the number of undergraduate completions in critical skill areas” is specifically troubling. These preferred degrees are all math, science and health related.
Obviously, continued excellence in these fields is vital for a variety of reasons. The language — along with Snyder’s entire attitude toward higher education — seems to forget the worth of all types of education. Pushing funding at specific programs in order to keep up with state regulations would detract from the University’s mission. It would be wrong to systematically devalue learning that doesn’t result in immediate financial returns.
Michigan’s entire education system is hurting and appropriately investing in it will to secure a brighter future. The state government could raise revenue to offset education spending by raising taxes on the wealthy or looking closely at Michigan’s inflated incarceration budget.
The administration uses the budget to tout the $385 million they’ve put away in Michigan’s rainy day jar — the Budget Stabilization Fund — in the past two years for future crises.
Governor Snyder: It’s raining now.