Traverse City Record-Eagle

Opinion

February 14, 2013

Another View: Higher education worth high priority

Gov. Rick Snyder's 2014 budget proposal will give lawmakers plenty to chew over in weeks ahead. Several of his priority issues will be controversial, not least among them proposals to substantially increase gas taxes and registration fees to help raise some $1.2 billion (a year) needed for Michigan roads, an effort the editorial board has previously supported. Unfortunately, a critical area that deserves more attention will likely get too little: Restoring the still-anemic funding for higher education.

Business Leaders for Michigan, a roundtable of the state's largest employers, sees the higher education issue and looming shortage of college graduates as critical issues for future prosperity. The group has benchmarked Michigan's universities against peer universities across the nation. Michigan's 15 public universities perform extremely well in areas such as controlling administrative costs and absorbing inflationary costs.

Where they suffer, though, is in the inability to offset dramatic cuts to state funding. A decade ago, state support covered about 50 percent of college budgets; now it's less than 25 percent. Hardly surprising, tuition now covers about 70 percent of college budgets, when a decade ago it was 45 percent.

BLM has called for a $100 million investment every year for 10 years to restore base funding of Michigan's universities. Snyder's proposal Thursday called for $1.4 billion in higher ed spending, up just $31 million, or 2.2 percent. Both BLM and Snyder call for performance-based measures and tuition restraint incentives as part of funding. Those make sense.

Yet ... BLM CEO Doug Rothwell, couldn't help but call for a more robust effort, again citing the Lumina Foundation study from 2012 that says Michigan will face a talent shortage of 900,000 graduates by 2020 and suggesting "It is critical we move even faster" to boost growth areas such as higher education.

"We appreciate that the state has begun to reverse the decade of disinvestment in our colleges and universities," he said. "To make college more affordable for our children, increase the number of college graduates our state needs to grow the economy and incent our colleges and universities to perform better than their peers, it will take a substantial long-term commitment."

Michigan must not let fights over roads and other priorities overshadow the critical needs of higher education.

-- Lansing State Journal

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