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Posted on Fri, Dec 16, 2011 : 10:09 a.m.

Coleman to Obama: 'Higher education is a public good currently lacking public support'

By Kellie Woodhouse

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Former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, left, gives a thumbs up as President Barack Obama and Michigan president Mary Sue Coleman smile at the beginning of spring 2010 commencement at Michigan Stadium.

University of Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman today praised President Barack Obama for bringing together higher education leaders in a recent meeting to discuss college affordability.

In an open letter released this morning, Coleman told Obama, U-M's spring 2010 commencement speaker, that he "elevated a thorny issue" by convening higher education leaders and advocates at the Dec. 5 forum.

"Higher education is a public good currently lacking public support," Coleman wrote in the letter. "There is no stronger trigger for rising costs at public universities and colleges than declining state support."

Coleman was invited to attend the Washington, D.C., discussion but declined citing a busy schedule.

The meeting brought together U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and leaders of several flagship public state universities and university systems, including the Maryland, Texas and New York systems and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Carnegie Mellon University. Duncan visited campus earlier this year to discuss public education with a panel of professors and local leaders.

Coleman and her staff also stressed the importance of public funding in an address to Gov. Rick Snyder's office in November.

Her letter to Obama comes on the heels of an Occupy U-M demonstration at the Board of Regents meeting Thursday, during which protesters criticized U-M for being unaffordable.

"There was once affordable public education, today there is only an expensive commodity," the protesters said in unison. "You value funding start-ups over students and you value billions in construction over accessible education."

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President Barack Obama gives the 2010 spring commencement address at the University of Michigan.

Read Coleman's full letter to Obama below:

Dear Mr. President,

Your recent meeting with college presidents is the best Christmas present I could have hoped for.

By bringing together higher education leaders to discuss college affordability, you have elevated a thorny issue that demands a national conversation because of its impact on all sectors of society. The cost of attending college is one of the most serious matters facing a country that seeks to strengthen its global competitiveness. How we resolve this dilemma requires collaboration, sacrifice and hard choices.

American higher education - particularly public higher education - is one of the monumental achievements of our country. No other nation can rival the innovation, creativity and intellectual fervor of our universities. Our institutions are responsible for America’s knowledge security - an intellectual wellbeing that advances health and medicine, business, social science, the arts, public policy and national defense.

And yet college is costly - too costly for some families. To meet the myriad needs of students and society, we absolutely must find ways to provide a college education at a cost that is sustainable. President Thomas Jefferson was rightfully adamant that a cornerstone of democracy is education for all, “from the richest to the poorest.”

Higher education is a public good currently lacking public support. There is no stronger trigger for rising costs at public universities and colleges than declining state support. The University of Michigan and our state’s 14 other public institutions have been ground zero for funding cuts. The state’s significant disinvestment in higher education has been challenging: a 15 percent cut in the last year alone, and a reduction of more than 30 percent over the last decade.

We have worked extremely hard to mitigate the impact of these cuts on students and families. We must and will do more, but also offer recommendations that may benefit all of higher education.

First and foremost, it is essential that states reinvest in their public colleges and universities. Not doing so is shortsighted and threatens to cripple remarkable institutions of learning. The University of California system is admired worldwide, yet its rapid dismantling because of underfunding is distressing; this is just the most dramatic example of starved higher education budgets nationwide.

Second, American business, to remain globally competitive, has a vested interest in the talent and research embodied in higher education. As employers of our graduates, business leaders must advocate for strong, consistent funding of higher education. The Business Leaders of Michigan, for example, is a private organization partnering with our state’s three research universities to help reignite the Michigan economy. These executives advocate increasing our state investment in higher education from its current status of 38th in the nation to the top 10. This collective voice of support is encouraging and powerful.

Third, private support no longer is a luxury, but rather a necessity. Philanthropy has always been a cornerstone of America’s private universities; the culture of giving back to one’s alma mater is ingrained in students from their first days on campus. Public universities must look more to alumni and friends for support, particularly for scholarships. As president, I challenged Michigan alumni to fund need-based scholarships for undergraduates, and they responded with nearly $70 million; this came after raising $540 million in a capital campaign to support students. Universities have an obligation to ask, and alumni should feel equally obligated to give back.

Finally, universities themselves must continue to cut costs. It may not always feel so for families, but at Michigan we have cut $235 million in operational costs in the last eight years to help offset tuition increases. We have eliminated or consolidated hundreds of jobs. We have asked employees to pay more for their health care. Only one budget item is sacrosanct and that is financial aid; here we are adding dollars. The result is that for many of our low- to middle-income resident students, it actually costs less to attend Michigan today than in 2004, and their loan burdens are lower than in previous years.

Mr. President, you have two wonderful daughters; I have two beautiful grandchildren. Parents and grandparents throughout the country want a secure, productive future for our young, and that future will demand a college education. As a former college professor, you know the rewards of seeing students grow intellectually, exercise critical thinking, and begin to shape their communities. This transformative experience of higher learning contributes to the overall wellbeing of our nation.

The onus is now on all of us - elected officials, university presidents, business leaders, philanthropists and parents - to collaborate on effective answers. I welcome being part of this critical national conversation and I trust that together America can find solutions.

You have my best wishes for a warm holiday season.

Respectfully yours,

Mary Sue Coleman

Kellie Woodhouse covers higher education for Reach her at or 734-623-4602 and follow her on twitter.



Sat, Dec 17, 2011 : 3:50 p.m.

Having made the commitment to our 2 children to provide financial support so that they obtain an undergraduate degree (at which point they are on their own regarding further studies) we are nearing the finish line. And, given the way costs have increased it couldn't come soon enough. The 5 year difference between my first child and my second dramatically brought clarity to the issue of obscene increases in costs. Reading about compensation packages at the top, plus all the other expenditures outside of actual education of students, is infuriating. Upper education is imperative for better opportunities in life but it HAS become a corrupt racket like the rest of big business and big government. I think this is the next "big bubble" to explode.


Sat, Dec 17, 2011 : 11:53 a.m.

Uh...has everyone been seeing the latest spat of articles about the hundreds-of-millions buildings and renovations and improvements going on? I graduated from U of M, and while it's a great school and all, their spending is completely out of control and there is a LOT of waste. I recall coming back after summer to see that they had replaced every television in the MLB and every VHS player with laserdisc players. And that entire video lab was just for watching foreign language films, language learning videos, etc. I have also heard some amazingly horrendous spending stories from several of their IT departments. To insinuate that they're even concerned about tuition and cutting costs is really misleading.

Stephen Landes

Sat, Dec 17, 2011 : 12:05 a.m.

President Coleman: Nice job of throwing your state under the bus in a letter to the President. I'm sure that will put you and U of M in solid with the Legislature and the Governor.


Fri, Dec 16, 2011 : 11:27 p.m.

A comparison of a couple of organizations. The leader of organization "A" is responsible for the care, safety, infrastructure, equipment, shelter, well being, and education of twenty to forty thousand individuals spread over at least three or more campuses. This 20-40k total does not include spouses or children that may accompany. The leader of organization "B" is Mary Sue Coleman. She is also responsible along the lines above for a slightly larger number of individuals as students and employees. The leader of organization "A" makes around $11,000 a month ($132k a year). Housing and a car is provided. Mary Sue Coleman makes total compensation of $760,196 as the fifth highest paid University President. A house and car is also provided. Organization "A" is the 10th Mountain Division, United States Army. Mary Sue needs to look in the mirror.


Sat, Dec 17, 2011 : 3:30 a.m.

By order of congress. Pay is capped at exec II schedule 156k. While DFAS has the scale it is not used because of the cap. Of course there is no union in the military. I was referring to your equivalency comment for the government in general. Government unions commonly cite level of responsibility or duties with their corporate matches in a quest for an equilivent salary. Coleman is a state employee? And I'm afraid I was not accurate on Coleman's salary. My apologies. The figure I gave was for 2007-2008. The last salary increase she accepted (to her credit, she has given the percentage back at least once) pushes her salary to $783,350. So, she can buy a better mirror.

Edward R Murrow's Ghost

Sat, Dec 17, 2011 : 2:58 a.m.

The pay I quoted was for an O8 over 18--top of the DFAS pay scale. Likely, per the executive pay notation on that scale, an O8 earns closer to $180K. There is no union in the military. MSC is not a union member. That said, apparently the free market is a good thing . . . . . except when it isn't. GN&GL


Sat, Dec 17, 2011 : 2 a.m.

Thank you Ghost, you are correct. As a Division makes up less than the equilivent personnel numbers to UM, we'd need to roll up to a Corps (2-5) Divisions and commanded by a Lietenant General (3 Stars). This means multiple "campuses" beyond the three cited for the 10th. As pay is capped by Congress to level II of the executive schedule, the LTG salary is capped at around $156K, so $24k more than I cited. The $24k difference is roughly half of what Coleman receives as retirement per year. What businesses pay, and/or their stockholders allow, is their own business. I think you are confusing government unions with conservatives on the free market equilivency thing.

Edward R Murrow's Ghost

Sat, Dec 17, 2011 : 1:14 a.m.

Actually, a major general (divisions are commanded by two-stars) earn nearly $150K per year. Of course, given the free market ideology espoused by conservatives, one would think they'd be railing about how poorly paid MSC and the CG of the 10th Mountain are when compared to that of corporate CEOs of similarly sized organizations. Go figure. Good Night and Good Luck

Stephen Landes

Sat, Dec 17, 2011 : 12:08 a.m.

Absolutely right on target! Not to mention that organization "A" risks life and limb for organization "B" while organization "B" risks, in the immortal words of Mel Brooks, only their "phony baloney jobs"


Fri, Dec 16, 2011 : 10:56 p.m.

I'm confused. I thought UM was a private University. If so, why does it need public support. I just read an article where UM is a major private initiative.


Sat, Dec 17, 2011 : 5:31 p.m.

UM is a public university, not private, even though it may appear that way too often.

Hot Sam

Fri, Dec 16, 2011 : 10:13 p.m.

I look at Ms Coleman... I look around all the spending going on at the U I look at all the salaries and be

Hot Sam

Fri, Dec 16, 2011 : 10:15 p.m.

Sorry... I look at the salaries and benefits And I have to ask...Is she joking?


Fri, Dec 16, 2011 : 10:10 p.m.

The Board of Regents keeps voting for budgets with big tuition increases. Each time they run for re-election they promise to keep tuition increases low but as soon as they get elected they vote for the same budget increases. Vote for new Regents


Fri, Dec 16, 2011 : 9:03 p.m.

I shed no tears over pampered professors (who have TA's teach their classes) and a university with a 6 billion dollar endowment. Crack the endowment if you want to reduce costs.


Sat, Dec 17, 2011 : 7:06 p.m.

I think you are comparing apples and oranges. First of all people are looking for Android, linux programmers, powertrain engineers etc.... but they can't find them. Would hire if we could find anybody ....and I mean anybody... The corrosive culture of calculated entitlement has created a workforce in this state with no skills and no work ethic


Sat, Dec 17, 2011 : 5:27 p.m.

Just asking BRAGGS, if sitting on money that would help people get educated at a lower cost is bad, isn't sitting on money that could be used to hire staff bad as well? Or, should UM be run like a business?


Sat, Dec 17, 2011 : 1:46 p.m.

? Umm... I thought we were talking about colleges? Way to focus the discussion.


Sat, Dec 17, 2011 : 1:35 p.m.

Does this hold true to the large corporations that are seeing record profits and are sitting on over $1.2 Trillion in cash. Tax burdens are at record lows, why are they not hiring?

Dog Guy

Fri, Dec 16, 2011 : 8:55 p.m.

What does Coleman think Obama can do with the current congress? This congress has even failed to award Obama the Medal of Honor for killing Osama Bin Laden! He should award it to himself by executive order.


Sat, Dec 17, 2011 : 7:07 p.m.

The CMH for a guy that's never worn the uniform? Chris Matthews is probably working on that even now. "For extraordinary heroism and conspicuous gallantry in action against enemy forces, above and beyond the call of duty," I'm sure all those other citations weren't meant to bed taken literally. Somebody get me a bucket.


Fri, Dec 16, 2011 : 10:50 p.m.

UBL's time came up during Obama's watch. Took close to two years to narrow down. Obama approves operation and got kudos. Now, about that Nobel prize...

Top Cat

Fri, Dec 16, 2011 : 7:49 p.m.

Looking at the picture, I see one person who is already discredited and gone from the stage and two that should be.

David Briegel

Fri, Dec 16, 2011 : 8:31 p.m.

Not discredited, term limited!


Fri, Dec 16, 2011 : 6:26 p.m.

OMG where do we begin: 1. MSC has a core strategy of accepting foreign students who we educate and send back to our &quot;competition&quot;. 2. MSC does not address the excess paid to faculty &amp; staff as part of the affordability solution. Check out the Michigan Daily salary supplement....over 3,000 making greater than $125K. <a href="" rel='nofollow'>;fte_op=%3E%3D</a>&fte[value]=125%2C000&amp;fte[min]=&amp;fte[max]=&amp;title=&amp;campus=UM_ANN-ARBOR&amp;Year[0]=2010&amp;fname=&amp;lname= 3. Whenever you hear &quot;for public good&quot; clutch the wallet for dear life. 4. Pay more for healtcare? Just bringing the contribution rate back to reality. 5. No call for the elimination sabiticals. 6. This letter is &quot;inside baseball&quot; at its finest laden with incestual back slapping. OCCUPY THE LECTURE HALLS!


Fri, Dec 16, 2011 : 6:04 p.m.

Some large universities are sitting on billion dollar endowments. Some are wasting money like there's no tomorrow. UMich in particular has been rapped in the past for NOT serving the public interest of the people of the State of Michigan well. Coleman comes off as totally tone-deaf to the purpose of a state funded, public university. If she wants to run with the private big boys (and she does) she needs to get over the idea of public funding because it's just not there. Wall Street banksters, big universities, and the US healthcare system = kissing cousins draining the public wallet.


Fri, Dec 16, 2011 : 11:27 p.m.

and UMich has always been considered arrogant by Lansing, too, so it's no surprise MSU is an increasingly more attractive option now. And if I were associated with the UMich School of Architecture I'd be embarrassed by the nastiness that North Campus has become.


Fri, Dec 16, 2011 : 9:53 p.m.

Actually less than 10%


Fri, Dec 16, 2011 : 8:02 p.m.

Well, UM may be publicly funded, but the state support for UM is &lt;50% of its budget.


Fri, Dec 16, 2011 : 6:01 p.m.

Yes, let's take more money from working families so some young adults can get their degrees subsidized. And so that universities can maintain their building binge, lavish pensions and other bennies, ethnic grievances departments, and so on. I'm firmly convinced that most young adults would be better off skipping university and either self-studying or going straight to work. If you don't have the discipline to self-study you don't have the discipline to be a successful student. Higher education has become just another racket. Sure, if you're going for a STEM degree and can get into the UofM go for it. Otherwise, think long and hard about whether the opportunity cost of 4+ years in university is worth it.


Sat, Dec 17, 2011 : 1:29 p.m.

Ever looked at &quot;Help wanted&quot; ads lately? While I agree that OJT is better for workers, employers WANT and are DEMANDING bachelors degrees for entry level positions.

Harry B

Fri, Dec 16, 2011 : 6 p.m.

I will never understand why the government thinks its should provide funding for ADULTS to go to college or a university. College is not always necessary for one to succeed in life. If an adults CHOOSES the route of going to school that is their business. Go ahead take out a loan. Get 2 or 3 part time jobs. Whatever you have to do but leave the taxpayers out of this. You're an adult. Take care of your own business.


Sat, Dec 17, 2011 : 1:27 p.m.

Because in a globalized economy we have to compete against countries that DO help their citizens with higher education. Most of those Chinese students at UM are having their ride covered by the Chinese government. Many European countries, Norway, Sweden, pick up higher ed.


Fri, Dec 16, 2011 : 5:56 p.m.

Higher education is suffering from the same problems as industry and government: unsustainable benefit packages and absurd spending that are on the verge of becoming unfunded obligations. How can a University President claim there is a 'lack of support' (which means money) when the cost of a college education has risen higher and faster than just about anything else. What is the rationale for these higher costs and where is the accountability for cost containment? The University of Michigan and the Federal Reserve have one thing in common: The Fed can simply print more money when it needs it and The University of Michigan can (and does) just raise tuition. The exponential rise in the cost of a college education is not the responsibility of the taxpayer. Eventually parents and students have to push back and not simply knuckle under to these rising costs. they need to ask two questions: 1. Is the cost of a college education actually worth the debt it creates for the student? 2. What is the true reason for this incredible rise in costs? As the leader of a large institution Mary Sue Coleman and her colleagues should answer these questions before insinuating the taxpayer is failing to place the 'appropriate' value on higher education. Perhaps President Coleman is the one doing that. Times are changing. Alternatives will be available. If these costs continue to rise unabated, prospective students and their parents are going to have to ask whether going into debt in perpetuity is worth what Mary Sue Coleman is marketing.

Harry B

Fri, Dec 16, 2011 : 6:02 p.m.

Nicely said

Jim Mulchay

Fri, Dec 16, 2011 : 5:41 p.m.

I wonder how this makes the public k-12 school systems feel? I don't know about other universities, but the University of Michigan seems to have plenty of money for buying property, construction and such. Better to invest in the elementary and secondary education systems - let the universities live off their tuition and endowments for a while.

David Briegel

Fri, Dec 16, 2011 : 5:31 p.m.

Ms Coleman, I think you are addressing the wrong people. It is the legislative leaders from the party of NO that are cutting anything related to education. I think both our President and our Governor are more supportive than those who control the pursestrings!


Sat, Dec 17, 2011 : 1:25 p.m.

education is &quot;wanton&quot; spending? No, wanton spending is losing pallets of $100 bills in Iraq. Wanton spending is awarding &quot;cost plus&quot; contracts with no oversight. Where were you guys from 2003-2008? Cheering the wanton spending!

David Briegel

Fri, Dec 16, 2011 : 8:29 p.m.

Now that the check is due for your 3 wars, no bid contracts for the drug pushers, and the Bush tax cuts, you have dined and now you're dashing! A noble trait! Making the poor, unemployed and the sick pay for your folly! Such silliness. And you guys claim to be conservative. What a joke!


Fri, Dec 16, 2011 : 6:31 p.m.

Hey DB this just in, part of self discipline is saying NO! As we fall off the cliff into bankrupt valley the answer must be NO NO NO to wanton government spending.

David Briegel

Fri, Dec 16, 2011 : 6:27 p.m.

Well Harry, why aren't you beating your chest loudly and proudly bragging about what your guys have done since the party of NO is in charge of everything in Mich?

Harry B

Fri, Dec 16, 2011 : 6:04 p.m.

The democrats were in power for two years. What did they do????