College tuition is taking center stage as Michigan gubernatorial candidates weigh in on Central Michigan University”s approval of a 28 percent tuition increase for the next academic year and the fear that other universities could follow.

Combined with Central Michigan”s 12.5 percent increase last year, that is a 44 percent increase over two years a number some candidates say is too high.

Lt. Gov. Dick Posthumus, a candidate for the Republican nomination, proposed a constitutional amendment that would cap university tuition increases at the level of inflation or 5 percent whichever is lower. When appropriating funds to the schools this year, Posthumus urged legislators to require state appropriations be cut by the amount in excess of the inflation rate at universities that raise tuition beyond the level of inflation.

“Every institution, whether government or private, is going through tough times, but Dick Posthumus is not going to say we”re going to balance our budgets on the backs of students,” said Sage Eastman, the Posthumus campaign”s press secretary.

One of the four candidates for the Democratic nomination, former Gov. James Blanchard, said he agrees with Posthumus that universities should roll back tuition and, if necessary, the Legislature should force them to do so. However, he said a constitutional amendment was unnecessary.

“Friendly persuasion usually works, and if that doesn”t work you can issue an executive order” cutting state appropriations, Blanchard said.

When the University of Michigan received a 1.5 percent state appropriations increase last year, it raised tuition 6.5 percent for most students.

Interim Provost Paul Courant said the Posthumus proposal is unrealistic. “It fails to recognize that tuition is not the only revenue source on which universities rely,” Courant said.

“We have as many students and are doing as much research as we have ever had, and there is nothing in our cost structure that allows us,” to keep our costs down because of hard economic times, he added.

Also criticizing the Posthumus proposal was state Sen. John Schwarz, Posthumus” opponent for the GOP nomination and the chair of the Senate”s higher education appropriations subcommittee.

Schwarz said his opponent”s proposal is unconstitutional because it strips the universities” governing boards of tuition-setting authority.

“I believe the implication is that the sky is falling and I”m here to say the sky is not falling,” he said. “Having worked with the 15 public universities in this state for 15 or 16 years intimately with them I know they do the very best they can to keep tuition and fees down but I know they do the best they can to provide a superb education.”

He said that compared to most public schools in the Midwest the University of Michigan is reasonably priced.

While Schwarz, Courant and University Vice President for Government Relations Cynthia Wilbanks all said the University raises tuition substantially when the state appropriation doesn”t meet their costs, Posthumus spokesman Eastman said:

“In the 1990s we set aside substantial amount of monies to get us through an economic downturn. There are any number of solutions that any institution can make it could include any host of measures. But that”s why we have and elect good regents and trustees.”

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