Michigan University Presidents Urge Changes In Funding Formula

LANSING – The state must continue increasing funding for universities, but it also needs to adjust the performance measures to meet the realities of higher education enrollment, university presidents told the House Appropriations Higher Education Subcommittee on Thursday.

The most common concern was the graduation rate measure, which adjusts funding based on the number of students who complete their degree within six years.

“We ask the Legislature to consider abandoning the metric for six year graduation rates,” James Smith, president of Eastern Michigan University, said. “It discourages universities from serving first generation students. It doesn’t count community college transfer students. Many first generation and community college students attend as a part-time student.”

“That doesn’t match who our students are,” University of Michigan-Flint Chancellor Susan Borrego said. “We don’t want our student penalized because they’re part-time or they successfully completed a two-plus-two program.”

Smith acknowledged he did not have a replacement for the measure.

The presidents said the state also needs to continue the path of increasing appropriations for their institutions.

“Only this year did we return to a fudging level comparable to where we were when we had the alarming cut in 2011,” Oakland University President George Hynd said. “We’ve not yet returned to a level comparable to where we were in 2009.”

“Education is a public good and I wish it was better reflected in the state’s investment,” Grand Valley State University President Thomas Haas said.

He said higher education funding is also an economic driver. Grand Valley contributes $780 million to Kent, Muskegon and Ottawa counties, its primary areas of operation, he said.

Hynd said OU sees the least per-student funding of the 15 universities, in part because it has seen the fastest enrollment growth over the last 10 years.

“If Oakland were to receive the average appropriation on a per-student basis, out budget would rise $37.8 million,” he said.

Haas encouraged moving all of the funding, though, through the performance indicators. “I fully support it as it demonstrates accountability to our taxpayers,” he said.

But he said enrollment should not be considered.

And Fritz Erickson, president of Northern Michigan University, argued for removing the tuition restraint and allowing the university boards to control their budgets.

“I believe we should let those folks do their job,” he said. “We’re very passionate about letting our students succeed.”

If the caps are going to be retained, he urged against moving to a strict percentage cap on tuition increases.

“I hope the House and Senate committees understand how important it is in the tuition restraint language to keep the hard dollar cap rather than the percent cap,” he said. Given NMU’s already low tuition, he said the percentage cap would inhibit opportunities to increase revenue and retain state funding.

Erickson also urged against changes to the Tuition Incentive Program for low-income students, arguing some proposed changes would mean less assistance for the students at NMU.

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