Michigan’s public colleges and universities need to do a better job of keeping costs down and informing policymakers of the actions they take in that regard, according to a report published by an umbrella group representing the state’s 15 public schools of higher education.

A report by the University Investment Commission of the Presidents Council-State Universities of Michigan, released last week, also suggests that lawmakers and policymakers need to come up with a better process of funding infrastructure improvements at the universities. It notes that funding for universities fluctuates dramatically between years of strong economic growth and those of little growth and that a more stable source of funding may be needed.

Usually, when the schools receive small or no increases in state funding, students see higher tuition increases. Last year’s increase at the University of Michigan was 7.9 percent for undergraduates when the state froze funding for all schools.

“Right now the capital outlay process is very unpredictable,” said Paul Hillegonds, who chaired the authoring commission and serves as a governor of Wayne State University. “It may be we suggest that, for planning purposes, the capital outlay process be scheduled more regularly or that a statewide bond proposal is used.”

Lately, bond issues have become a popular method for lawmakers to fund projects as the state encounters a budget deficit that prevents the funding projects out of its general fund.

But state Rep. Chris Kolb (D-Ann Arbor), who sits on the House subcommittee overseeing higher education funding, said “the universities are going to have to do a better job of documenting what they’ve done to get a better handle on their costs.”

The report also suggested:

n A yearly summit of lawmakers and university officials to discuss funding issues and the deliverance of a “state of the public universities” message

n A more aggressive approach by the next governor to secure federal funding for higher education

n That the state recognize the economic impact of higher education funding, noting a study by the Michigan Economic Development Corp. showing the state’s spending of $1.5 billion on higher education in 1999 produced a net economic impact to the state of $39 billion

n Better cost-saving procedures at the universities, such as the use of bulk purchasing and the sharing of energy sources

Provost Paul Courant said the University of Michigan is already undertaking many of the cost-cutting procedures outlined in the report, but said he is not sure about the feasibility of an annual summit of education leaders and lawmakers.

“The particular missions and goals of the capacities of the different universities is actually quite different and whether a collective meeting of that kind is something that should be done is quite uncertain,” Courant said.

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