As universities across the U.S. feel the increasingly constrictive demands of the economic hardships plaguing this decade, so too does the University of Michigan. With the University’s pockets already tightened by a 15 percent cut in higher education funding from the state government this past year, the Michigan legislature now seeks to offset some of these costs with a 3 percent increase in funding. This minimal increase comes with a stringent set of stipulations that Michigan public universities need to abide by in order to receive the funding. As the 2013 Education Omnibus Appropriation Bill deeply threatens universities’ autonomy in making crucial financial decisions, Republican Gov. Rick Snyder should not sign it into law.
The 2013 Education Omnibus Appropriation Bill calls for a 3 percent increase in higher education spending, as long as strict stipulations are adhered to. Higher education spending dropped by more than 19 percent between 2007 and 2012 and hasn’t seen an increase in funding in over four years. The conditions to receive this money include limiting tuition increases to 4 percent or less, as well as intruding upon the universities’ social policies like requiring extra reports detailing stem-cell research. Under this bill, institutions aren’t allowed to have a relationship with nonprofit “worker centers” that protest working conditions in Michigan businesses, among other constraints.
The bill’s meager allocation of additional funding to higher education shouldn’t demand further compromises by any universities. A 3 percent increase does little to stop the bleeding created by the past few years of budget cuts. Institutions, especially our own, have been forced to raise tuition by as much as 7.1 percent in this past year. The requirements of this bill simply aren’t worth adhering to when only a small slice of the 3 percent increase is all that a university receives.
Higher education funding shouldn’t come with constraints pertaining to social issues in the first place. Whether or not the state government agrees with a university’s politics, university funding must be non-partisan, as Michigan universities have constitutionally guaranteed autonomy in making financial decisions. University leaders have the right to run their institution in the way they believe best serves their students without politicians in Lansing breathing down their necks.
The stipulation that universities must limit their tuition increase to 4 percent or less is unreasonable. The University will only receive a 1.6 percent increase in their funding through this bill. The gap between cuts and increases in higher education funding is still insufficiently met, even with the 7.1 percent tuition hike from last year and a 4 percent increase this year, should the University decide to comply.
The Michigan Legislature only succeeds in tying the hands of University leaders with this bill. Snyder has always claimed to support the state of Michigan’s university system and higher education. It’s time for him to put the money where his mouth is.