After a few months of breathing room, it looks like the University’s funding is back on the state legislature’s chopping block. With deficits anticipated in Lansing, the state legislature has started looking for costs to cut, and funding for the University is a serious target. In such difficult economic times, spending cuts will be necessary to balance the state’s budget, but these cuts shouldn’t be aimed at education. Reducing funding to public universities will devastate many students’ ability to pay for college, and by doing so, negatively impact Michigan’s economy. To invest in the state’s future, the legislature needs to maintain its current levels of funding for higher education in the form of scholarships and direct funding.

Michigan’s Legislative Commission on Government Efficiency — a taskforce charged with finding ways to save the state money — recently commissioned an education study group to find costs for the state to cut. Last week, the group released a report outlining its recommendations. One such recommendation was to eliminate the Michigan Promise Grant Program, a major source of the University’s scholarship aid. Another idea was an across-the-board cut 7.1 percent in funding to state colleges and universities . The group also suggested some even less viable options, like privatizing the University of Michigan, which would actually require an amendment to the state constitution.

These ideas range from disastrous to absurd. And none of them take into account the place higher education has in Michigan’s transforming economy. Canceling the Michigan Promise Grant Program, which accounts for 40 percent of all scholarship aid to students of the University of Michigan, would hamper the post-secondary educations of many students. As tuition continues to increase each year and loan-based aid becomes increasingly scarce, scholarships are necessary to make college more accessible and affordable. Though the abolition of the program would mean short-term savings for the state, countless students won’t be able to get a college degree without the assistance of the scholarship program.

The proposed 7.1 percent cut in funding to public universities is equally grim. The University has had to raise tuition the past few years even as state funding increased. A decrease in funding would result in an even higher tuition hike to offset the massive amount of lost revenue. The high cost of tuition is already making college an impossible dream for some students — even higher costs would deter potential college applicants from even applying to the University and stop many who were accepted from attending.

But decreasing funding to higher education affects more than just students who depend upon scholarships and reasonable tuition. As the state’s economy reduces its emphasis on heavy manufacturing, it will need workers with new talents and skill sets. Institutions of higher learning provide these skills and are necessary for creating and continuing economic growth into the future.

To protect such an important component for the state, lawmakers need to trim the budgets of other discretionary items. There are areas of the state budget than can better absorb cuts — Michigan’s dysfunctional, costly corrections system is probably one of those areas.

As money dries up in Lansing, it’s true that the state legislature will have to make tough decisions on how to re-allocate precious dollars. But devastating funding for education is not an acceptable way to cut spending. This state simply can’t afford to stop investing in public universities that will be responsible for developing tomorrow’s workforce.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.