Once again, Gov. Jennifer Granholm has proposed more funding cuts to the University budget as part of her 2005 state budget. In her plan, the state will cut the University’s funding by an additional $5.6 million, and funding for higher education throughout the state will fall by $30 million. Before the current school year began, the University had promised to maintain tuition at the rate of inflation in a deal with the state to recapture $20 million that had previously been cut. However, the state has reneged on its deal and now, nearly mid-semester, the University is faced with a threatening imbalance — the level of funding needed to maintain top-level academic programs has outstripped the University’s supply of funds. As a result, a tuition increase seems all but inevitable. However, because a mid-year tuition hike will put many students in a tough financial situation, the University should do what it can to avoid increasing tuition.
Although Granholm’s budget would cut discretionary spending for higher education, the budget proposes to grant public universities and community colleges access to $100 million in capital outlay funds. The Office of the State Budget claims that these funds compensate for the cut in state discretionary spending because universities can reallocate the money they already have set aside for capital projects. However, University President Mary Sue Coleman has highlighted that this small fund, accrued from state bonds, will not be able to account for other losses in funding. Despite these outlay funds, it is unlikely that the University will emerge from these budget rollbacks unscathed.
With the state failing in its responsibility to fund public universities, it appears the University will have to increase tuition to ensure that current academic standards will not fall. Although no student desires a tuition increase, the state’s failure to adequately fund higher education makes such an increase necessary. Yet, a mid-year tuition hike is not the solution. Many students who attend the University depend on financial aid, scholarships and loans to make already-steep tuition payments each semester. Such an increase will leave students scrambling for emergency loans and searching for sources of funds.
Ultimately, successive cuts to the higher education budget throw into jeopardy Granholm’s vision for an educated, modern workforce. At the center of any plan to educate Michigan’s workers must be the state’s public institutions of higher education, including the University. However, as budget cuts compound and the pressure on the University’s budget grows stronger, the University will become ever more reliant on private sources of funding — namely tuition. The University will slowly shift from being a public institution that provides an affordable education for all to an increasingly private entity available only to the rich. If Granholm does not take the state’s commitment to higher education seriously, and fund it accordingly, her plans to transform the state will collapse.