Education At A Crisis Point
The story is not new. And that’s the problem. “More Students; Shrinking Funds” and the story beneath it on page 1 is redundant, but what is new this year is the fact that Michigan now ranks as “dead last” among 50 states for college and university funding. This has transpired while every economic study by any think tank coast-to-coast ties access to higher education to a strong economy. It is what business owners across the country have said is the No. 1 necessity, far outranking tax structure.
Not to be missed in this report is reason to celebrate as regional colleges and universities see increases in enrollment, which bodes well for the critical skills of the upcoming work force. But the state has passed on yet another hidden tax increase to both the institutions and the families of Michigan, already suffering one of the worst economic downturns in the country. Combined with the ongoing credit crisis, the issue is likely to become an education crisis for would-be students in the quickly shrinking middle class, even as Michigan businesses are increasingly concerned about filling jobs. Ferris State University President David Eisler, who has seen the fastest-growing enrollment in the state, noted that Michigan does not fund enrollment increases. FSU has been dealt a 27 percent cut in state funding the past seven years.
Grand Valley State University President Thomas Haas heads the Presidents’ Council of state public university presidents and is leading a discussion of using “different” models to fund higher education. One of those discussions leads back to the principles outlined in the book, “The Price of Government: Getting the Results We Need in an Age of Permanent Fiscal Crisis,” which at least had discussion in the state House before term limits wiped away the memory. Still, that very partisan discussion was not supported by fellow Republicans in the Senate. Therein lies the other part of the problem: a continuing impasse in Lansing and resulting atrophy.
There is no reason for isolated groups around the state or in Lansing to spend more time and money on such discussions. Think tanks in Michigan have issued white papers on the subject, most notably the non-partisan Center for Michigan, which draws from the minds of board members including Paul Hillegonds, Mark Murray and Doug Rothwell. After holding town hall meetings across the state and tapping the best business minds in Michigan, the group’s basic premise is K-16 education.
Business owners need to take leadership roles on the boards of area colleges, and universities and college presidents need to open the academic box to their expertise. Haas would do no better than to host those leaders from Center for Michigan with his Presidents’ Council. There is no longer time to rehash discussions, which stymies immediate solutions. The ramifications of continued inaction are akin to a bullet in the head of the economic body of the state. Action is required.