University President Mary Sue Coleman chided state lawmakers yesterday as she criticized Republican Gov. Rick Snyder’s proposed 2013 budget that would use a new formula to allocate state funding to universities.
In her annual testing before the state House Higher Education Appropriation Subcommittee in Lansing, Coleman said, “The funding recommendations looks back and not forward. Achievement counts for little.”
Snyder’s budget proposal would increase funding for public universities and community colleges by 3 percent if approved, translating into a $36.2 million increase in funds for higher education in the state.
Though Coleman said she applauds the increase, one of her concerns is that the appropriation is being partially determined by performance-based metrics, which she and University Provost Philip Hanlon do not favor. They expressed that improving the University’s performance for more state funding would be challenging because it is already performing at a high level.
“The metrics compare the state’s universities against each other, rather than against their Carnegie classification peers,” Coleman said in her testimony.
A new allocation formula has also been developed based on growth in number of undergraduate degrees completed, number of undergraduate degree completions in critical skills areas, number of undergraduate Pell Grant recipients and compliance with tuition restraint.
In a Feb. 24 interview with The Michigan Daily, Coleman also expressed disappointment with the plan.
“Under this, the University would only experience a 1.4-percent increase,” Coleman said.
She added that she hopes Snyder and the state Legislature will reconsider the metrics in consideration of the University’s unique circumstances.
“This is a one-time funding and can get taken away next year,” Coleman said last month. “I can’t build anything into base since I don’t know what will be there next year, including student programs.”
Coleman also explained to the committee yesterday that the increase in funding this year is positive after a decade of cuts and welcomed by the University. However, she noted that more needs to be done.
“I’d like to see the Legislature set a goal of getting the state back into the top 10 of state funding for higher education,” Coleman said. “I recognize that would be a long-term goal, but setting a goal is the first step toward achievement.”
In an interview with The Michigan Daily, State Rep. Kevin Cotter (R–Mt. Pleasant), one of the committee members, said each university that receives state funding is asked to give a 30-minute testimony to the committee after Snyder releases the state budget proposal. The presidents of Grand Valley State University, Saginaw State University and Michigan Technological University also testified.
In her 10-page remark, Coleman also highlighted the University’s changes in financial aid investments to increase the amount of grant money provided to students.
“As a result of these investments, most students with family incomes up to $80,000 who have financial need, pay less today to attend U-M than they did in 2005-06,” Coleman said to the committee. “Less. That’s not a misstatement.”
She also said the goal of the University’s upcoming capital campaign will be to raise funds to help lessen student debt.
“I believe when we focus on reducing student debt, we are targeting the largest challenge for students,” Coleman said in her testimony. “Your debt burden should not prohibit you from attending college or pursuing the field of study that is most important to you. We will work hard at student debt reduction over the next few years.”
Coleman also spoke of the University’s cost containment and reduction efforts that have been implemented since she came to the University in 2002. By 2017, the plans will have saved the University about $355 million, she said.
“Despite the 35-percent reduction in state support over the past decade, our University sits on a stable financial foundation today because we began tackling the cost drivers for higher education long ago,” Coleman said.
She also discussed the recent research fellowship created with Dow Chemical,announced this week, which will add 300 new fellowship positions and other research opportunities at the University.
“We are generating an enormous amount of important research in the life sciences,” Coleman said. “This is a huge range of activity from basic science to the application of that science in areas such as medical devices and technologies.”
Cotter said he heard “a lot of positive” in Coleman’s testimony, adding that though changes may not be made to the state’s funding for higher education from Coleman’s testimony specifically, the committee will consider her suggestions during their deliberations.