Stop higher educations parade of pathetic pleadings

March 18, 2012
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It is an annual rite repeated each of the last 10 years: the parade of Michigan college and university presidents called to Lansing to beg the return of tax dollars for the mission of educating a work force and would-be entrepreneurs. It would seem a rite continued only to assure legislators that they are, indeed, all powerful — even as they exemplify the definition of insanity.

In the week after State Rep. Lisa Lyons, R-Lowell, was appointed chair of the House Education Committee, her subcommittee on higher education funding nodded through testimony from Grand Valley State University President Thomas Haas and University of Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman, and from the presidents at Michigan Technological University and Saginaw Valley State University. Their peers are scheduled for additional testimony and pleadings in the coming weeks.

Gov. Rick Snyder has proposed a funding formula offering an approximate 3 percent increase over funding levels one year ago, but based on college graduation rates. The inequity of so simplistic a “formula” aside, GVSU would “win” the top level of such state aid, but Haas took the high road and beseeched the committee to provide an “enduring, predictable and collaborative” partnership with all the state’s institutions of higher education.

Another piece of Snyder’s formula “rewards” colleges and universities for capping any tuition increases to less than 4 percent. Haas pointed out the obvious: If state aid had not been reduced every year of the last 10, the colleges would not be forced to determine progressively higher tuition rates, in the process shutting out an increasing number of students unable to afford the hikes.

The insanity of continued cuts in education has promoted Business Leaders for Michigan to decry the disinvestment, just last month telling legislators: “This fiscal year, Michigan will spend 76 percent more general fund dollars on prisons than we will on universities. … Our public universities are a major driver of Michigan’s economy. This investment strategy is upside down if we want to attract business investment and good paying jobs.”

The statewide association of Michigan CEOs also noted comment from Glenn Mroz, president of Michigan Tech and chair of the Presidents Council, State Universities of Michigan, who remarked on the varied cost-cutting measures and controls at each of Michigan’s universities. “All our universities today operate on defined contribution plans, and guaranteed pensions are a thing of the past. To meet rising health care costs, university employees pay roughly 20 percent of their health care costs, which is in line with the private sector. Our universities have pruned programs that are not attracting sufficient students and added programs to meet the needs of employers. We are using our finite resources to provide our students with a quality education that positions them well to succeed in the future.”

Michigan’s investment in higher education offers the greatest payback: an educated and affluent work force. Rep. Lyons has accepted Education Committee leadership, and she must end the parade of pathetic pleadings and set a path apart from the insanity of this vicious circle of neglect and legislative failure.

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