Funding Michigan's universities—our student leaders get it

11-16-2005

Last week a group of students from a dozen of Michigan’s public universities went downtown to talk to state lawmakers about why the legislature should increase funding to higher education.

The group was led by a pair of MSU students: Julielyn Gibbons, the legislative affairs director for ASMSU, and Kevin Hertel, the group’s assistant director for legislative affairs.

Their initiative and their message are particularly welcome right now.

We all know that state funding to public higher education has been on the decline for more than 30 years. We at Michigan State have done the best we can to mitigate the effects of those cuts on students and families for as long as possible, holding the line on tuition increases for nearly a decade and looking for efficiencies wherever and whenever we can find them.

But we finally reached a point over the last three years where we couldn’t cut anything more without negatively impacting the quality of the institution—we had little choice but to raise tuition in order to maintain the kind of excellence that people expect from this university. At the same time we made some unprecedented increases in financial aid and put in place some innovative programs to help preserve the kind of broad access that’s so much a part of our land-grant mission. I’ve talked about those things elsewhere, so I’m not going to go into them in any detail here, other than to say how much we appreciated ASMSU’s support when we took this year’s budget and tuition plans to the Board of Trustees back in July.

Rather, I want to commend this group of students for the passion they bring to and for the human faces they put on the issue of higher education funding for the legislators. Too often decisions can be made without those making them having to actually see the people that they affect. And make no mistake about it, cutting funding to higher education affects every Michigan public university student (and their families) in one way or another, and ultimately will affect all of Michigan’s economy and future as well.

In this morning’s paper, the headline says “College grads to see fewer Michigan jobs,” suggesting a “brain drain” among graduates of Michigan universities because, among other things, traditional large manufacturing companies and automotive suppliers aren’t hiring the kinds of numbers they used to.

That alone is a powerful argument for increasing support to our public universities, particularly research universities like Michigan State. In the new knowledge economy, those are the places where the research is being done. Those are the places that will produce the new ideas that will result in new products, businesses and industries. And those, in turn, will create the jobs that will keep our graduates living and working in Michigan, growing our economy, and being the kinds of citizen leaders we pride ourselves on.

It seems to me our student leaders get that, and are working to do something about it. They’re setting an excellent example for others.

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