Our Governors on higher education

MIRS reports that former Governor Granhom “at her first book signing since A Governor’s Story was released, was asked what she would have done if the budget had run a surplus for just one of her eight years in office. Granholm said she would have “at least saved the cuts from higher education” because they were “almost the most painful” and were important to the future.”

Governor Snyder as candidate Snyder wrote in his 10 point plan for growing the Michigan economy:

Lip service has been paid to creating a knowledge-based economy, but that transition has been delayed by cuts in funding for higher education … The state needs to reverse recent trends of under-investing in colleges, universities and community colleges. Michigan spent decades building a world-class system of higher education. The system is arguably the most import asset the state has to develop the concentration of talent Michigan needs to be successful in the knowledge-based economy.

Both clearly understand that Michigan’s public universities are a key asset to Michigan’s future economic success. And yet what happened while they were in office? An 18% reduction in state spending during Granholm’s 8 years and the largest ever one year cut of 15% in Snyder’s first year in office. Add it together and state support for our 15 public universities is down by a 1/3 since 2002 from $1.8 billion to $1.2 billion. Michigan has fallen to 49th in state support per pupil. That’s right: next to last. Hard to imagine for a state with a legacy in the 20th Century of having built one of the best public higher education systems on the planet.

And the consequence of those cuts has been severe as Peter Luke demonstrated in a terrific MLive column. Luke notes for the first time ever the avearage tuition at Michigan’s 15 public universities is above $10,000. Making higher education unaffordable for more and more Michigan high school graduates. Pretty dumb!

There is a direct correlation between declining state aid and increasing tuition. As Luke writes

Average tuition since 2002 is up more than 110 percent. …  If state aid had merely kept pace with inflation on an annual basis in the past 10 years, per-student spending by the state would be about $4,000 more than it was in 2002, a little less than the increase in tuition during that period. Instead, the 2012 budget chops it another 15 percent. On average across the 15 schools, state aid provides about a quarter of the money for general operating budgets. And on average, about three-fourths of those budgets comes from tuition and fees. Three decades ago, it was reversed.

Michigan is 37th in the proportion of adults with a four-year degree or more. As both Governors Granholm and Snyder know that is a recipe for the state getting poorer since college attainment is the best predictor of state per capita income. Not surprising we have fallen to 36th in per capita income. It is hard to imagine how we increase college attainment in Michigan if we continue the disinvestment we have made in our public universities the past decade. We need state policy makers while in office – rather than before or after their terms – to make higher education a – if not the – priority.

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