Amidst burgeoning tuition costs, and the planned budget cuts of Gov.-elect Jennifer Granholm, a consortium of business and civic leaders – the University Investment Commission – have asked the state government to lower the cost of the15 Michigan public universities. This action is alarming given that Michigan spends, on average, $5,795 per student in the state university system, roughly $1,000 less than other states. Additionally, The UIC reports that “Michigan residents pay 28 percent of their annual income for college tuition, 50 percent more than in other affordable states.” So how is it that Michigan residents spend more but receive less?
The state’s efforts to reign in its spending are commendable, however, those frugal-minded decisions should not come at the cost of important cultural and academic endeavors that will continue to make this institution a convergence point for diverse opinions and ideas. In order for this tenuous balance between imperative practicality and continued expression to be reached, the University should begin by improving its efforts to publicly disclose how its money is spent. It is unfair and unrealistic to ask Michigan residents to bear a tremendous financial burden without better explaining how their tax dollars and tuition are spent.
The current methods used to divulge information are inadequate. While the University’s budget is available for those concerned, it is too hard for many to find online or in print. This problem could be ameliorated by posting a more visible link to the University’s expenditures on the school’s Internet homepage. A further, and welcomed step, would be for President Mary Sue Coleman to personally address those immediately concerned – the students, faculty and staff. Each year, when the University’s budget was ratified, Coleman could explain changes and articulate how and why the budget was allocated. If nothing else, it would provide Coleman with an annual forum through which she could enhance her existing relationship.
It is important that these or analogous changes occur because the University must be fully accountable to its customers. (And “customers” is the appropriate term for this discussion because students paying the highest public school tuition in the nation are surely seen by those who collect al that money as education consumers.)
Tuition has continued to rise despite the nation’s fledgling economy and such an unfortunate circumstance would perhaps be more palatable to the University’s students and families were more done to explain how funding is appropriated. If classes are not being added, if more professors are not being hired, if more computers are not being bought, then where is the money going? If the opposite is true, and this school now offers more courses taught by more teachers using better computers, then make that explicitly clear.
In addition to mollifying its community, the University would also foster a dialogue concerning its resource allocation of resources. Perhaps, given a more lucid explanation, students, teachers and staff would decide that they didn’t need certain improvements if they came at the expense of preferred, yet otherwise superfluous services. Instead, those superfluous services would be properly deemed unnecessary and the University could end them with the mandate of those that it serves. Regardless of the perspective outcomes, an engaging discourse on the school’s budget would be beneficial and the University needs to foster it.