The University agreed not to raise tuition more than 8.5 percent next year after a compromise was reached late last week between the heads of the state”s 15 public universities, Gov. John Engler and legislative leaders. In exchange for keeping tuition increases relatively low, the colleges, including the University of Michigan, will not see any cut in-state funding for the coming fiscal year.

Spokeswoman Julie Peterson said the University was pleased with the agreement and recognized the “need for restraint.”

With state revenue projections showing the state in a relatively steep fiscal hole, many lawmakers began predicting late last year that many programs would face cuts in the coming fiscal year.

But Central Michigan University”s announcement late last year threatening a 28 percent tuition increase seemed to be a warning signal, indicating that many state universities might be on the verge of raising tuition at record increases.

Following that announcement, lawmakers rushed to prevent such events from occurring.

But funding is not officially contingent on universities” keeping tuition low. Instead, it is more of an informal agreement.

“We”re hopeful that the Presidents Council (of the State Universities of Michigan) which was part of this agreement, will stand by it,” said Engler spokesman Matt Resch.

But Sen. Alma Wheeler Smith (D-Salem Twp.), ranking Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee and a member of the committee”s subcommittee on higher education, cautioned, “if we have consecutive years of no increases and tuition held at a minimum, the institutions will be faced with the responsibility of cutting academic programs or cutting faculty and staff.”

Nevertheless, Smith said, “My understanding is that the budget will be advanced as quickly as possible so nobody can change their minds.”

Rep. Chris Kolb (D-Ann Arbor), a member of the House Appropriations subcommittee on higher education, said the agreement had a “better than average” chance of sailing through the House of Representatives, which takes up the appropriations bill after its approval by the Senate.

Assuming the bill is approved as quickly as Kolb and Smith predict, it will be in stark contrast to last year”s process, which took about five months to complete following the state budget director”s presentation to the Legislature last February.

The appropriations bill was signed by Engler after several months of disagreements between the House and Senate.

But Rep. Charlie LaSata (R-St. Joseph) said he would vote against the agreement in its current form. LaSata said he was opposed to higher education being given higher priority than other state-funded programs and also questioned whether voluntary restraint language would work.

“I”m not convinced that tuition restraint language will be effective. We had tuition restraint language in the budget two years ago and two schools raised their levels above that level,” he said.

Smith, however, cautioned that 0 percent increases in funding may not always be manageable by the universities.

State Budget Director Don Gilmer”s formal presentation of the governor”s budget proposal is scheduled for Thursday before a joint session of the House and Senate appropriations committees.

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