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Posted on Sun, Jan 15, 2012 : 6 a.m.

Lawmakers: Make college education more affordable by treating it as a priority

By Tony Dearing

A recent analysis of college costs by Bridge magazine should be required reading for all Michigan lawmakers.

The review found that students attending public universities in our state are paying more for their education than students in virtually any other state. The reason for that is quite straightforward. The state of Michigan has been slashing support for higher education, shifting more of that cost onto students and their families.

The Bridge analysis concluded that the net cost of attending the University of Michigan was sixth highest among 73 peer universities across the nation. Students at Grand Valley State University pay an average of $23,000 more over four years than the median cost as similar universities elsewhere. Bridge concluded that GVSU has the sixth highest net cost and the third lowest level of state support among its group of peer institutions. A GVSU official told Bridge that the college has “essentially been privatized’’ by the cuts in state support.

The Center for Michigan, a non-profit, non-partisan policy group that publishes Bridge, has done us all a service by providing this analysis.

Michigan has one of the nation’s finest university systems, and yet at a time when a college education has become the most important indicator of personal income and economic vitality, we are systematically disinvesting in that system and making it less affordable for young people in Michigan to attend college.

Last year, the Legislature made many difficult, unpopular decisions in order to help put the state’s fiscal house in order. Now, it is time for lawmakers to turn their attention to policy decisions that can shape the state for the future, and high among those has to be a commitment to preserve our university system and make college more affordable.

We challenge state lawmakers with these questions:

What actual evidence is there that tax cuts to business will generate new jobs, and what justification is there for continuing to make that a legislative priority at the expense of education?

Why have the astronomical costs of incarcerating prisoners in Michigan gone unaddressed, when savings available there could help make our education system stronger? What kind of future is Michigan positioning itself for when it is one of the few states in America that spends more on prisons than on education?

As the state budget shows signs of stabilizing and the improving fortunes of the auto industry create the possibility of new revenue, will the Legislature continue to preoccupy itself with a social agenda on issues like domestic partner benefits, or will it focus on fundamental issues like education that can restore Michigan to the economic strength it once enjoyed?

Our past economic might was built on high-wage, low-skill jobs that required little education. We all understand those days are gone, yet at a policy level, we continue to struggle with a culture that does not put enough value on higher education.

The analysis in Bridge magazine has helped frame that issue, and we commend the Center for Michigan for publishing it. If we are not talking about educational attainment and the availability of a college education in the coming year, then we’re not having the right conversation. Let’s make it a priority in 2012.

This editorial was published in today's newspaper and reflects the opinion of the Editorial Board at David Lampe, who serves as a community member on our Editorial Board and is director of research communications in the office of the vice president of research at the University of Michigan, did not participate in our deliberations on this editorial.



Mon, Jan 16, 2012 : 1:53 p.m.

I might be more sympathetic if there were any financial responsibility being exercised by more of the institutions themselves. When they start cutting the numbers and salaries of administrators, including public safety directors, I might believe they are serious. When students and the parents of students start choosing institutions they can realistically afford it might help with the problem. Originally the goal was a high school eduction. University degrees were not considered a "right". Somewhere that changed, maybe for the better. I don't see a lot of the whiners working their way through school anymore. If you want to add funding do it for the hard sciences, medicine, engineering, architecture, etc. No additional funding for fields where all you can do is teach. Those who can do, those who can't teach.

Stuart Brown

Mon, Jan 16, 2012 : 3:23 a.m.

More of the usual drivel from office of public relations at UofM ( and UofM's public relations department merged their operations some time ago.) Isn't it convenient that the burden of using public resources well falls on others when it comes to explaining why tuition is so high? Here is one example of what is wrong with the way UofM uses financial resources: $440 million to rehab dorms! That's right, rehab not build new. My old dorm Alice Lloyd Hall will use over $50 million to rehab it when it is not an architecturally significant building; for that kind of money, a new building should be built with more than the 500 beds Alice Lloyd has. To see why this is so outrageous, just look at the fact that the new luxury student apartments going up in Ann Arbor spend about half per bed than UofM on construction costs and about one quarter per bed using the assessed value of the ICC's co-op housing. Finally, the ICC co-op's have kept their fees in line with inflation over the last 30 years while the cost of Room & Board at UofM has on average exceeded inflation by about 50% per year. Why? Why should Room & Board cost increases consistently exceed inflation by a wide margin year after year at UofM? I contend it is due to a culture of contempt for the public that owns the UofM at the very top of UofM. If the UofM administration actually cared about the public which owns UofM, this would not be allowed to happen.

Andy Price

Sun, Jan 15, 2012 : 10:51 p.m.

We can't continue to have big tax break for the rich and for corporations and also maintain our public infrastructure. Something's got to give.

Andy Price

Mon, Jan 16, 2012 : 5:27 a.m.

Additionally, if you stop to think for a few seconds...hard, I know...what's changed? Has the taxes paid gone down over the last decade (a) for the rich and for corporations or (b) for the bottom 50%? The answer is, of course, A. That is why we cannot afford things that we used to, like affordable state college educations, free public education, police and fire service, road maintenance. But keep carrying water for the rich, DonBee. Hopefully you're rich youself. Or a paid troll for the Mackinaw Center. Either way, I'm sure the top 1% appreciate your efforts.

Andy Price

Mon, Jan 16, 2012 : 5:20 a.m.

@DonBee: Way to stick up for the rich and for corporations, but what you're alluding to only counts income tax. You may not know this, but in fact there are a whole lot of other taxes that the non-wealthy pay. Nice try though.


Mon, Jan 16, 2012 : 3:11 a.m.

Andy - And we can't have less than half the population paying taxes and maintain our infrastructure.


Sun, Jan 15, 2012 : 8:05 p.m.

Where to start: 1) Staff directory for the non-profit, "non-partisan" Center for Michigan: Led by a former Regent, UM. Three journalists, one former staff member of a Democratic Senator (and campaign manager as well) and one former grant administrator. Tell me again on non-partisan or independent analysis? 2) Your op/ed: no mention, not even an inference, on controlling costs. The police chief of the UM (when you have one), makes more than a Corps Commander (three star general) in the US Army. And the personnel costs spiral up from there to administrators/executives/deans/presidents. Why don't you ask the legislature to look at what other States have done in consolidating purchase power, construction, curriculums, and administration? Not a peep. In 2003, Maryland had the sixth highest net cost in the nation. They are now 21st through a statewide consolidation of costs and effieciency measures with no tuition increases in 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2009. As others have pointed out, continuing to go back to the legislature for funding of these bubbles of non-reality is over without prudent cost effectiveness


Mon, Jan 16, 2012 : 12:04 a.m.

Continue to sit in the ivory tower there Sparty. Complacent boasting on the "Michigan Difference" while it becomes out-priced for the state's own residents is not what this Michigan grad, and son of a UM professor-emeritus learned while there. Refusing even to study alternatives - because the status quo has been around for 150 years (better tell women and 18 year olds to stop voting) - is that the "Spartan" method? Why wouldn't UM retain it's flagship status in a cost effective unified system?


Sun, Jan 15, 2012 : 10 p.m.

What's this fixation on Maryland? Michigan is a NATIONALLY ranked research University, one of the top in the US. As such it will have higher costs in some areas to attract and retain the talent that makes it that elite institution of higher learning, one that is so popular that not all who wish to get in to it are able to based on academics alone. In order to retain the Michigan Difference, and the took national ranking that it has, Michigan must remain autonomous from legislative meddling in it's affairs and continue to follow the model that has made it the success it has been for well over 150 years as it has grown, evolved, adapted, and yes continued to maintain it's national ranking. For those that are unhappy with this model, there are plenty of other Michigan colleges and Universities to choose from, or others across the country ... including the always mentioned Maryland from Arborcomment.

Jon Saalberg

Sun, Jan 15, 2012 : 7:14 p.m.

In a country where presidential candidates (most of the GOP contenders) propose eliminating the Department of Education, it seems more important than ever that President Obama be re-elected. The GOP presidential contenders possess most of the ideas that our red state legislature has been working on and look at the train wreck they have created - do we really want our state's fiscal misery reflected on a national scale?

Angry Moderate

Sun, Jan 15, 2012 : 7:05 p.m.

"The state of Michigan has been slashing support for higher education, shifting more of that cost onto students and their families." And who exactly was paying for it before?


Sun, Jan 15, 2012 : 5:04 p.m.

After paying for the last four and half years at a Michigan public university this report is no surprise to me. Even if we redirect tax dollars to public universities it does not mean they will spend it wisely. They can and DO whatever they want: case in point U of M and EMU. And while the Michigan legislature is working furiously ask them to also tackle the exorbitant cost of textbooks.


Sun, Jan 15, 2012 : 4:50 p.m.

Why not let other states pay to educate citizens, and then create an environment where they move here?


Sun, Jan 15, 2012 : 7:09 p.m.

Er, if they come here, they BECOME Michiganders. Pre-educated, tax paying Michiganders. State comes out of recession. Cue music.....


Sun, Jan 15, 2012 : 6:50 p.m.

Sooo screw the native Michiganders, educated out-of-staters can come take all the jobs? Sounds like a good plan for the future of our economy.

David Briegel

Sun, Jan 15, 2012 : 2:23 p.m.

I can't believe that has finally challenged the biggest lie of the last 30 years; that the benefits of all these tax cuts would just "trickle down" onto the unwashed masses. There is no evidence that will occurr. It certainly hasn't. The disdain for the educated class and their educators is palpable amongst the leaders of the conservative movement. Education is a commodity and if you can't afford it, tough. Our civil society will no longer subsidize education like occurred post WWII when those with college degrees grew from 6% to 20% thanks mainly to those same subsidies. And those who choose to call it envy or class warfare in order to demonize their fellow citizens who wish to discuss a more fair shake from our systems should be ashamed of themselves as the results are clearly there for all to see! Embrace the class warfare label and denounce envy as the cause of the desire for more equity from our policies. The cuts to education at all levels does not serve to advance the cause of a more just and civil society!


Sun, Jan 15, 2012 : 2:18 p.m.

I agree with the article that higher education might not be a priority but DonBee points out there are other priorities as well. And even if the tax payers say gave U of M another $10,000 a students what's going to stop them from just raising tuition the same amount? When U of M's priority is buying the next office coplex, remodeling another stadium or giving massive raises to a bunch of deans that's the problem not the state. Unless we take over control of the state universities and make tuition cost a priority I have no desire to pay more taxes.


Sun, Jan 15, 2012 : 2:11 p.m.

Let's see - the K-12 crowd is angry because some of "their" money went to colleges. The colleges are angry because "they don't get enough support". Taxpayers are angry because "they pay too much". Businesses are angry because their "tax credits" were eliminated. Social support groups are angry because "their funds were cut". Etc, etc, etc Like it or not, Michigan is a poorer state than it was a decade ago. College cuts did not start in 2011, no they started back in 2000. If we had given K-12 all they claim to have been due, the college funds would have been cut even further. The governor chose some level of balance last year. He made no one happy. 2012 promises to be another year of making no one happy. Unfunded Medicaid and Medicare mandates from the Federal government will rise by over $500 million this year. The need to pay back Federal loans for unemployment (more than $4 billion dollars) grows this year. The unfunded liabilities in the state retirement funds (approximately $43 billion dollars) will need some payment (after 8 years of Governor Granholm ignoring this liability). In short Michigan is in the hole, a deep hole. Prioritization is critical. Detroit will need rescue funds this year, so will several school districts (all of whom would have still needed rescue even if they had gotten the same funding as Governor Granholm gave them in 2009). Yes, we could raise taxes on someone else - the rich, business, some other "not me" group. The reality is no one wants to see their taxes rise. In this county there will be at least a dozen millage increases on the ballot this year between the county, school districts, townships and cities. Most will go down in flames. Like it or not Governor Snyder is doing the hard, disliked changes that Governor Granholm put off for 8 years. Community college is our choice for years 1 and 2 of college, for our children - way cheaper than any 4 year school.


Mon, Jan 16, 2012 : 3:09 a.m.

johnnya2 - I like the idea, but free health care for all Michigan residents (based on 2009 data from <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> would run approximately $65 billion. The total state budget is $47 billion dollars - total. So we would need to more than triple state taxes to provide that benefit (because roughly 40% of the state budget comes from Federal sources). So state income taxes would rise to about 15 percent of everyone's income. Then you can look at the cost of free college - let's for number sake cap the benefit at 4 years - so roughly 600,000 people qualify over a 4 year period. Current costs for colleges run roughly $8000 a year + books + fees + +. Call it $10,000 a student a year. So we would need another $6 billion a year. Your proposal adds roughly $71 billion to a $47 billion budget - a 150% increase. Then add that both college costs and health care costs are increasing at over 5% per year - so $3 billion increase a year. Yes it is doable, but how many families and businesses would look at a tripled tax burden and decide to move to Ohio or Indiana or...


Sun, Jan 15, 2012 : 9:47 p.m.

The fact is no business has EVER cut their way to the top. Apple does not cut back on their education or R&amp;D budget. They increase it every year. Why? because if you do not stay ahead, you are falling behind. I have said for many years that the easiest way to fix Michigan's issue is really simple. Free college to any person who graduates from a Michigan based school at a public university they can be accepted at. Also, free health care for all people who reside and are employed in the state. This takes the onus off the employer. Puts every person in the state on the same plan. Those who want to pay for a higher level can do so. Imagine a company making the decision where to locate their business at. The one where they do not have to worry about health care because it is already taken care of (by the way it is why Ontario has taken many jobs from Michigan), and how many employees would want to live in Michigan. Imagine the increase in demand for housing, restaurants, retail, health care providers.


Sun, Jan 15, 2012 : 6:47 p.m.

I would certainly pay higher taxes so I'm probably not the only one who cares more about the &quot;big picture&quot; than just myself and my own pockets. Still, I put education over EVERYTHING and it breaks my heart to see K-12 funding cuts when most of them weren't getting enough in the first place. Community college should not be seen as such a bad choice - WCC here is one of the best community colleges I know of and I love it. UM and EMU students both take classes there and many have said the work doesn't seem much different. Full time tuition cost for one semester at WCC: approximately $1k. Very doable, especially with their payment plans.


Sun, Jan 15, 2012 : 4:38 p.m.

Well said. Our state needed an emergency financial manager (not another career politician) and we got one in Snyder.


Sun, Jan 15, 2012 : 1:17 p.m.

I agree with the opinion here, BUT ... why the free pass for Gov. Snyder? The cuts to education and the business tax were his ideas afterall.


Sun, Jan 15, 2012 : 1:13 p.m.

there should be some good( infighting/class ware fare) comments here between the lower,middle,upper middle class making sure there neighbor receives no help in getting an education,just leave those spots for the rich/fortunate, am I right?