March 18, 2021: Appropriations testimony

House Appropriations Subcommittee on Higher Education and Community Colleges
Testimony by Michigan State University President Samuel L. Stanley Jr., M.D.

Good morning everyone, it’s an absolute pleasure to be with you this morning. I’m pleased to represent Michigan State University and convey our gratitude for the state’s support over the 160-plus years MSU has served Michigan.

For those of you I haven’t met, I began my career as a biomedical researcher trained in infectious diseases. I came to MSU in 2019 after leading Stony Brook University in New York for 10 years.

I’m a very strong believer in the transformative effect of higher education on individuals, communities and states. I was attracted to MSU by its great reputation for undergraduate education, world-renowned research and its powerful land-grant legacy of access to excellence outreach statewide to help all citizens of Michigan.

MSU is a leader in education, research and outreach and ranks among U.S. News and World Report’s 100 Best Global Universities. We have 36 undergraduate and graduate programs ranked in the top 25 nationally, including nine No. 1-ranked programs. Those include our No. 1 undergraduate and graduate supply chain management programs.

Supporting Michigan
MSU’s graduate programs in elementary and secondary education have led their categories for 26 straight years and are vital talent and knowledge assets to Michigan’s K-12 system.

Michigan students today comprise 80% of MSU’s undergraduate enrollment, and most of that talent stays right here in Michigan upon graduation. Almost two-thirds of MSU graduates last year started their careers with jobs in Michigan within six months. Another 25% continued their education, most at MSU or other state universities.

And we have 271,000 degreed alumni who live in Michigan.

To remain as accessible as possible, MSU has kept tuition rates frozen for the last three years, and this year MSU increased student aid by 4%. Forty-seven percent — or 18,671 of our in-state students — received a need-based grant and/or a merit-based scholarship last year. 

MSU remains a popular choice for Michigan’s families and students. Our in-state applications are up 9% over last year and up 21% compared to 2011.

MSU impact and presence
MSU has a significant impact and presence in Michigan. All told, we have a $5.8 billion financial impact across Michigan annually, including more than $655 million spent with local businesses.

You can add to that the services Spartans provide Michigan residents, such as health care. We’re training more than 2,900 medical interns, residents and fellows across the state and educating more than 1,800 medical and nursing students and 325 veterinary medical students. 

Michigan’s three research-intensive universities — which together we represent as the University Research Corridor — in fact award more medical degrees than any other peer cluster. Four in 10 physicians in Michigan will train at one of the URC schools.

MSU’s medical education model is community-based, with affiliations with more than 1,000 clinical sites across the state. You might know about the College of Human Medicine’s downtown Grand Rapids headquarters in the Secchia Center. We’ve added the Grand Rapids Research Center and, more recently, the Doug Meijer Medical Innovation Building to support R&D and public/private partnerships.

The Michigan-based company Perrigo also recently announced it will locate its headquarters in the MSU Innovation Park there.

And in Detroit, MSU is developing a new partnership with the Henry Ford Health System, which will enhance medical education, research and quality health care access to underserved communities there, and beyond.

Student success and transformation
But no university can be considered successful if students aren’t at the center of its efforts. We believe everyone accepted to MSU can, with proper support, graduate in a reasonable time.

Michigan State’s graduation rate continues to improve, rising from 78% for those who entered in 2010 to more than 81% for those who graduated last year. The graduation rate for in-state students, by the way, is 82%, and for all first-generation students, it has risen more than four percentage points in the past five years.

We’re encouraging students to take full credit loads to graduate on time, and we see the results: Average time-to-degree dropped from 4.18 calendar years for those graduating in 2015-16 to 4.02 years in 2019-20.

Every graduate represents a success story, but here is one student story I’d like to share.

A young man came to us from a family of modest means as a first-generation student. He dreamed of being an engineer, but he struggled, as many do, with his College of Engineering calculus requirement.

But at MSU, rather than accept that talented students may miss out on their dreams by failing a math course, we created a groundbreaking Math Learning Center. Our student engaged with the center, was able to break through in calculus and eventually tutored other students in order to give back.

He found a job with an out-of-state technology company after graduation and, I’m pleased to report, has brought his talent back to Michigan. He’s working part-time as a radio frequency engineer at MSU’s Facility for Rare Isotope Beams as he pursues an advanced degree.

This is what Michigan State University can do. 

Research and agriculture
Speaking of the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams, it reached a milestone last year when the U.S. Department of Energy designated it a DOE Office of Science User Facility. We started construction in 2014 and expect it to start scientific user operations ahead of schedule ­­and on budget in 2022.

It’s a very exciting, $730 million program that will yield insights into the nature of the universe as well as practical benefits in areas including energy, materials and medicine. It has also been a major source of jobs in our state and is a tremendous opportunity for local construction and manufacturing.

One of the things that attracted me to MSU was the breadth and depth of MSU’s research, which now exceeds $725 million in annual spending. Close to half that money comes from federal sources such as the Department of Energy.

I’m a former technology transfer executive and like to look at each laboratory as a small business. Our laboratories employ scientists, staff, graduate and often even undergraduate students and purchase supplies and services. And the faculty, staff and students who come to MSU to participate in research activities are a regional economic driver. 

The MSU Innovation Center, meanwhile, stewards more than 170 of our discoveries annually into a pipeline of patents, products and startup businesses. 

In the land-grant, problem-solving tradition, MSU’s research breakthroughs range from the cross-fertilization of corn in the 1870s to innovative anticancer drugs in the 1960s and novel approaches to combatting malaria in the 21st century. 

In our earliest days, MSU was the first college in the U.S. to teach scientific agriculture. Our research continues to have very direct impacts on Michigan’s agricultural industries.

Among our recently funded research programs is one using plant genetics to better understand how plants respond to drought. Another extends our study of pests that affect Michigan’s blueberry crops. We’re working to help growers improve yields, gain efficiencies, protect workers and preserve the environment.

Extension and outreach
This takes us to another thing that brought me to MSU: MSU Extension, which offers a wealth of MSU programs and resources to the people of Michigan.

MSU Extension includes more than 600 faculty and staff in nearly 100 offices across all 83 counties. The $90 million it spends annually represents investments from the state and federal governments, counties, the university and private sources.

MSU Extension has built on its existing online resources over the last year to reach even more people with practical information. MSU Extension records more than a million visits to its websites now each month.

And I know our Extension staff looks forward to returning to in-person operations, including those supporting nearly 175,000 4-H youth participants, when it is safe to do so and public health guidelines allow.

Outreach and service are at the heart of MSU Extension and are a university-wide commitment. Our engagement ranges from supporting school districts across the state with talented teachers and expert consulting to partnering with Apple for a new app development academy in Detroit open to all state residents.

Our outreach also includes supporting Michigan through this pandemic by doing things like helping test wastewater for the novel coronavirus in different communities and opening the MSU Pavilion for what has become a nationally recognized vaccination site to serve this community.

COVID impacts
It was just over a year ago that MSU moved most of our instruction online in response to the pandemic. Today, I’m pleased to report we’re scheduling approximately 50 in-person graduation ceremonies outdoors for spring graduates.

We’re planning a safe return to campus for as normal a fall semester as public health will allow. We anticipate the great majority — 75% — of our courses will be held in person, even as we integrate more online options that students say they appreciate.

The experience we gained in the last year will mean more ways for students to access courses remotely when they’re pursuing study abroad, during internships or work opportunities or if they need to take a semester at home for personal or family reasons.

MSU offered a wide selection of online courses before the pandemic and maintains a vigorous instructional innovation program, so we had valuable assets to call on when we pivoted to remote learning. And more than 1,000 instructors took additional online course development training last summer.

We know the pandemic has impacted student well-being, so we surveyed them after fall semester to see how they were doing, and how MSU is doing. The survey confirmed they’re dealing with a lot of out-of-classroom issues that can affect their studies such as isolation, mental health and technology.

But the results also highlighted the excellence of our faculty. Students cited more than 3,000 MSU faculty and staff members by name for their support in the remote learning environment.

With vaccines now being more widely dispensed, I see the light at the end of this long, dark tunnel. I’m proud of the work accomplished by MSU in addressing COVID-19, both on campus and in communities around Michigan.

I know you have questions, so I’ll stop here. Thank you again for your support for MSU.