It looks as though the University will soon be able to boast yet another state-of-the-art science building. Despite the state’s budget crisis, administrators remain confident that the state will grant the University $75 million for a new biology building. Though science is an expensive investment, it is critical to attract the brand of students that will help foster an economy that will create jobs in Michigan. Yet, it is first necessary for the University and state legislators to ensure that the University remains affordable so that future students can partake in important new postsecondary education initiatives like the new biology facilities.
Just a few weeks ago, the University failed to procure the $20 million dollars it was promised by the state for holding its tuition down to the rate of inflation. While it is hard to complain about a new science building, it should draw skepticism from students, who are already paying astronomical sums of money to attend the University.
With the state budget so thin this year, the University needs to prioritize. The Michigan Difference campaign, University President Mary Sue Coleman’s private fundraising initiative, has been highly successful at attracting contributions for specific buildings and projects, and would be a much more reasonable source of funding for a new biology building. However, it is far more difficult to find general funds that can be used at the University’s discretion. It is essential that academic departments are able to afford the kind of quality professors and academic resources a student should expect from a high-calliber university. Though the University’s alumni association is one of the largest and most generous in the country, remains a public institution, and its success greatly reliant on receiving public funding.
If the University is able to wrestle $75 million from the state for a science building, it should be at least as successful at obtaining $25 million to ensure tuition costs do not rise. With the University’s recent success, there also lies the potential for state legislators to feel that they may have political cover — preventing further necessary state funding for the University.
Coleman has been outspoken in her desire to further diversify the student body. If the University is serious about diversity, it must do everything in its power to keep tuition costs down. It is becoming increasingly difficult to afford the costs of higher education — if the University wants to attract students from underprivileged backgrounds, and continue to offer an “uncommon education for the common man,” it needs to show a real commitment to curbing the cost of tuition.
Far more disturbing than the University’s fundraising priorities is Lansing’s absolute lack of understanding of the unique needs of the state’s 15 public universities. If the state Legislature were at all sensitive to the pressing concerns facing the University, it would grant the $20 million in general allotment funds it originally promised. Funding higher education should always be a top priority — especially in difficult economic times when public universities contribute to a healthy and more reliable economy, and prevent the kind of brain drain that continues to plague the state of Michigan.