The University needs money to run, and getting more of it is never a bad thing. So, as members of the state legislature congratulate themselves on supposedly recognizing the value of higher education for Michigan’s future and increasing state appropriations to the University by 3-percent, we applaud them, even if their action is curiously timed – with elections looming just around the corner.

Sarah Royce

But the minute increase is not nearly enough to make up for the disastrous cuts in state funding that recent years have brought. More importantly, though they increased funds, state lawmakers still don’t understand the disastrous role fluctuating funding has played in the hard times state universities are facing and in the corresponding tuition increases. If they truly appreciate the importance of higher education in the future of Michigan’s economy, responsible action would entail nothing short of adequate, mandated funding levels for higher education that increase with inflation.

Some observers believe state universities already have enough money, and this 3-percent increase for the University will be more than enough. But consider that state funding has been cut 13.7 percent in the past three years alone, meaning current state funding levels are about 11 percent less than they were in 2003. With factors like inflation and rising energy costs evermore in play, the University will be forced to raise tuition despite this small increase in state funding.

Raising tuition gives birth to many new problems. Prospective students will see rising tuition costs as a sign that college is out of their reach, leading to a less-educated workforce in a state that already faces one of the highest unemployment rates in the country and could use more college-educated workers.

The University has a policy of raising financial aid to meet the raises in tuition rates, but even this process creates problems. To provide more money for financial aid, the University must cut back in other areas, leading to larger class sizes, layoffs and termination of courses and research programs. The only solution is for state funding to be more stable and at a level that is sufficient for universities. This would allow universities to plan ahead, not simply on a year-by-year basis, letting them engage in more long-term programs, assured of the availability of funding.

For too long, this page has echoed the cries of prudent observers of the state economy in railing against the inclusion of higher education as part of the discretionary spending portion of the state budget. Higher education shouldn’t be something funds trickle down into when all other programs are paid for – it is a top priority and must be treated as such. It should not be continuously dynamic, subject to the whims – political or otherwise – of any politicians.

The time to end annual political influence on state appropriations for higher education has come and gone. But legislators would do better to act late than never in taking the decision out of the hands of their successors and providing state universities with the financial stability they dearly need.

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