The Daily’s editorial board and I have long been firm believers in the idea that higher education holds the key to Michigan’s economic success. It is for this very reason that I am dissenting against last week’s editorial, Reinventing Michigan (10/24/2005). The editorial contains, in my opinion, numerous inconsistencies that contradict and undermine the Daily’s own stance on the economic importance of higher education. To be fair, it raised a number of good points. Unfortunately, it argued that the state should only give general funding to the University – that it should not earmark additional funding for tech departments.
The main argument put forward was that investing in a liberal arts education is equally as important as investing in technological fields. The Daily argued against the state directing a portion of its higher education funding toward universities’ technological departments because “while many of today’s well-paid jobs are in scientific and technological fields, the intangible benefits of a strong liberal arts program cannot be discounted.” This argument already starts to fall apart when you consider that the same editorial supported former University President James Duderstadt’s recommendations in his report, “A roadmap to Michigan’s future.” This was the same report that also emphasized that the state’s manufacturing-based economy should be overhauled into a more technological and knowledge-based one – an economy in which the majority of new jobs would be in the information technology and engineering sectors. The report suggests raising higher education funding by 30 percent to achieve these goals. Unfortunately, given the sorry state of Michigan’s economy and finances, this is not a practical idea.
Even those who agree with Duderstadt’s report, such as K-16 Coalition spokesperson Ken MacGregor, acknowledge this; the coalition is presently lobbying for a ballot initiative to increase higher education funding by only a fraction of Duderstadt’s recommendation. Until the state gets out of its financial rut and is capable of significantly increasing higher education funding, the only practical way to realize Duderstadt’s recommendation of building a technology-based economy is through earmarked funding for departments that can help make this goal a reality.
The Daily’s editorial board suggested that Michigan should emulate Massachusetts and California. These states have thriving tech-based economies that are fueled by the research done in the nation’s finest engineering universities. These economies are successful, to a large degree, because of the cutting edge research done at, and the skilled graduates produced by, the universities’ tech departments. If Michigan is to emulate these states, it would have to do so by upgrading the quality of the technological programs offered at the University. I am not suggesting that the state should neglect the University’s liberal arts program. The state has a responsibility to fund the University sufficiently so as to at least maintain the present quality of its liberal arts program. However, if the state would like to further invest in higher education through the University’s tech departments, it should be allowed – and even encouraged – to do so.
In an ideal world, the state’s finances would be healthy enough for it to increase higher education funding across the board. Unfortunately, we are not living in an ideal world – one can hardly blame lawmakers for not being able to increase higher education funding by 30 percent and balance the budget at the same time. Given the state’s bleak finances, the best option available to the state may be to invest specifically in the programs that can help to transform Michigan’s economy into one based on technology.
Rajiv Prabhakar is an engineering sophomore. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.