Traverse City Record-Eagle

March 3, 2013

Forum: Universities help, but state needs more support

BY J. PATRICK DOYLE and DOUG ROTHWELL

— Michigan’s economy is rebounding faster than most states, but businesses won’t be able to get the high-skilled workers they need unless we commit to making higher education more affordable for students.

Data shows Michigan’s public universities, as a group, confer the fifth-highest number of degrees and certificates among all states. Even more impressive, Michigan produces the fourth-highest number in critical skills areas, including math, science, engineering and technology - degrees needed to fill the high-paying, in-demand jobs that will help Michigan become a Top Ten state for job, personal income and economic growth.

A recent study (http://urcmich.org) released by the University Research Corridor showed its three universities - Michigan State, the University of Michigan and Wayne State - conferred 31,683 graduate and undergraduate degrees in 2011, more than half in high-tech, high-demand, and medical fields. That successful record puts Michigan’s Research Corridor schools ahead of six other university innovation clusters nationwide.

At Business Leaders for Michigan, we think far more remains to be done. Michigan is projected to need about 1 million college graduates in the next decade, yet only a quarter of Michigan adults over age 24 hold a bachelor’s degree or higher. We tell our children they need a college degree to succeed, yet we’re pricing college out of their reach.

The state has dropped its financial support for higher education by 50 percent over the last decade when adjusted for inflation, causing tuition to nearly double and student debt to skyrocket.

Policymakers have been trying to reverse course. Champions in the Legislature such as Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker have pushed for more funding for universities if they are efficiently producing the talent Michigan needs and making higher education more financially accessible. Last year’s higher education budget reflected an increase, and this year’s proposed budget continues that trend. But more must be done.

North Carolina’s population, per-capita income and overall state spending are nearly identical to Michigan. Yet North Carolina spends $2.5 billion to support its higher education system; Michigan spends just $1.1 billion.

A North Carolina family spends $20,000 less over four years educating a child than a Michigan family. North Carolina has made college affordable; Michigan continues to shift the cost to students and their families.

Business Leaders for Michigan recently launched its Performance Tracker for Public Universities, allowing policymakers, parents and students to evaluate our public universities relative to their national peers (http://businessleadersformichigan.com/PerformanceTracker/).

This tool and the Research Corridor’s Economic Impact Report show our public universities stack up well against universities nationally and contribute significantly to our economy. Word is getting out that the brightest minds in engineering, biomedicine and alternative energy are in Michigan. Our public universities are committed to producing tens of thousands of graduates in high-demand fields for those businesses to hire, but they can’t do it alone. Greater financial commitment must come from the state.

About the authors: J. Patrick Doyle is President and CEO of Domino’s Pizza and chairs the Business Leaders for Michigan Task Force on Higher Education. Doug Rothwell is President and CEO of Business Leaders for Michigan.

About the forum: The forum is a periodic column of opinion written by Record-Eagle readers in their areas of interest or expertise. Submissions of 500 words or less may be made by e-mailing letters@record-eagle.com. Please include biographical information and a photo.