The state’s public universities are increasingly chafing under Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s continued state appropriations cuts, causing some to question whether the state’s current approach to funding higher education should be reformed.
Congressman Joe Schwarz (R-Battle Creek), a University alum who during his time as a state representative and senator was known as one of the University’s closest allies in Lansing, has floated the idea in recent days that the state should use a permanent funding source for higher education rather than using money from the state’s general fund.
“The governor has stifled tuition raises, (Granholm has) cut funding and there’s a high rate of operational costs at these universities, and people are going to start seeing department cuts soon,” said Matt Marsden, chief of staff for Schwarz.
Previously, in a deal with Granholm, the University had agreed to maintain tuition increases at the rate of inflation in exchange for protection from further appropriations cuts. But after Granholm proposed $30 million in higher education cuts last month —including $5.6 million from the University — some believe the governor has reneged on the deal.
Schwarz will ask state lawmakers to consider creating a separate funding source for higher education when he meets with them next week, Marsden said.
Since the passage of Proposal A in 1994, Michigan’s K-12 schools
have been funded with a permanent tax source. Proposal A shifted school funding — which was coming from local property taxes — to the state sales tax, which increased from 4 to 6 cents per dollar.
According to Michigan in Brief, a website that details state public policy, since 1990 state and local funding for K-12 education has risen by 84 percent — a $7 billion increase. Meanwhile, general fund appropriations for universities have increased by 46 percent, from $1.3 billion to $1.9 billion in the last 12 years.
State Rep. Glen Steil (D-Kent), a member of the House Appropriations Committee, called the idea impractical.
“In a perfect world, that would be great — I’m not against it — but the fact of the matter is you can’t guarantee funds for everything,” Steil said.
“If there’s enough money, then I’m open to that, but right now there’s not. I care about higher education funding as much as anybody, but it’s about making choices, keeping in mind that you don’t want to compromise the quality of our universities.”
Mike Boulus, executive director of the Presidents Council, State Universities of Michigan, said he thought it was “almost hypocritical” for the state to require universities to hold tuition at the rate of inflation and still cut funding, Booth Newspapers reported.
“It’s been a tough year, but we have to question how the state can hold down tuition, cut our state aid and conclude that we’re properly investing in higher education’’ Boulus said.
University President Mary Sue Coleman has said the University has lost $50 million from the state’s general fund over the past three years.
University spokesperson Julie Peterson said Coleman will discuss state appropriations cuts when she testifies before the House subcommittee on higher education spending Wednesday.