State governments all over the country are suffering from crippled budgets and Michigan is no exception. Last week, the state Legislature attempted to balance the budget, leaving significant cuts throughout many important financed areas including higher education. The University is among the institutions that will suffer the most and will be receiving $9 million less than the previous year. The state Legislature needs to recognize that financial cuts toward higher education are only hindering the state’s educational reputation and ignoring the long-term benefits of funding higher education. Despite the difficult financial climate, the University has planned ahead and students will not have to worry about a mid-year tuition increase. University officials such as Provost Paul Courant believe tuition will not rise for Winter 2003, but a hefty tuition increase could be in place for Fall 2003.
While cuts were expected for the next fiscal year, the severity of the cuts was not foreseen. Republican Gov. John Engler’s executive order aimed to cut funding for universities and colleges by 2.5 percent. Legislators were still dissatisfied and the Senate supported a proposal to reduce the cut to 2 percent. The state House has not yet voted on this plan that would allocate surplus Michigan Merit Award funding to decrease the budget cut by .5 percent, without reducing the number of Merit scholarships.
One kink in the bill’s eventual passage is that the state House linked the use of the Merit Award surplus with a separate bill that would mandate that the state’s boards of higher education be elected regionally instead of state-wide. The creation of districts would be a troubling move and through their decision, certain legislators have decided to play politics instead of best serving the state’s educational system. Fortunately, state Sen. John Schwarz (R-Battle Creek) believes the Senate will take this hostile amendment out of the budget.
This budget cut gives students a chance to see their newly-elected officials in action attempting to follow through with their tuition-reducing platforms. In light of this November’s elections, now is an appropriate time for those elected officials who stressed tuition control in their platforms to take advantage of the situation and act to ease the burden of excessive tuition.
Regent Andrea Fisher Newman (R-Ann Arbor) based most of her successful campaign for re-election to the board on her voting against tuition increases, and it will be interesting to see if she controls herself even with such slack funds. Others who emphasized lower tuition include officials at all state levels all the way to Democratic Gov.-elect Jennifer Granholm herself. These officials owe their constituents a solution to this problem. The state is dependent on an affordable higher education system to maintain an educated and competitive workforce and spur on the state’s long-term economic well-being.