LANSING — Testifying before the Michigan House Appropriations Subcommittee on Higher Education today, University President Mary Sue Coleman told legislators that continued state financial support is essential to the University of Michigan’s overall mission and the economy of the state as a whole.
Coleman appeared along with Michigan State University President Lou Anna Simon and Wayne State University President Jay Noren. The three presidents stressed the importance of state funding for higher education, noting that Michigan has fallen behind other states in how much it supports its colleges and universities. Each year the three presidents testify together representing the University Research Corridor, which is a partnership of Michigan’s three largest research universities.
In discussing the pivotal role higher education plays in improving the state’s overall economic health, Coleman said the University of Michigan is contributing through students, faculty and last year’s decision to purchase Pfizer Inc.’s Ann Arbor facilities.
Coleman said the University encourages entrepreneurship in students and faculty, and that these ventures strengthen the school and the state.
“We want to encourage and reward professors who move inventions and innovations into the market place,” Coleman said.
She cited the NanoBio Corporation as an example of a business resulting from this focus on research. NanoBio was founded by James Baker, a professor of internal medicine and biomedical engineering at the University. In the three years since its founding, the biopharmaceutical company has secured a total of $80 million in venture capital.
Coleman said financial investments received from private backers suggests a confidence in the company that is promising.
“There are a lot of people who believe in this company, and believe that it’s going to have breakthrough treatments in the future,” she said.
Coleman said the University’s December announcement that it would purchase the former Pfizer Inc. campus near North Campus will allow the University to broaden its contributions to research and further stimulate business.
“Over time, this expansion of research facilities will allow us to bring in millions more dollars to the state and will lead to the addition of at least 2,000 high-paying jobs for people who are working within the research enterprise,” she said. “This is going to be one of the largest expansions of the University of Michigan in more than half a century.”
When asked what percentage change in state funding she would consider acceptable for next year, Coleman said she didn’t have a specific percentage in mind.
“We’ve lost so much over the last seven years that any increase would be welcome,” she said.
According to a Coleman’s presentation, Michigan currently ranks 49th among states in higher education allocation increases, besting only South Carolina in that statistic. Michigan is also one of only four states that spends more money on its prison system than on higher education.
Coleman stressed that in 1997 Michigan and North Carolina both funded higher education at about the same levels. However, she said that since then North Carolina has increased funding for higher education by approximately $2 billion, while Michigan has only increased funding by about $300 million.
Coleman indicated that an increase in state funding would provide more flexibility for the University when considering next year’s tuition rates.
“Of course the increase of what the state can provide, there’s a direct relationship with what we have to charge for tuition,” she said. “So the more the state can give us, the less we have to depend on tuition increases.”
Coleman said she and other University administrators would be open to working with the governor, legislators and others in brainstorming ways to effectively use money to help both the University and the state.
Granholm submitted her budget proposal to the Michigan legislature on February 12. The proposal is now being considered and revised by the Michigan House and Senate.