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Michigan cuts to higher ed among worst in country

college diploma graduateShortchanging universities reduces access to higher education, hurts economy

By the Michigan League for Public Policy

LANSING — Michigan has cut funding to public universities and colleges deeper than 37 other states since the start of the Great Recession, according to a new report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. As a result, tuition has risen dramatically, making it harder for many to go to college and for the state to attract businesses that rely on a well-educated workforce.

While per-student funding increased modestly, (4.8 percent), over the past year, Michigan cut funding for higher education overall by 28 percent since 2008, according to the report. That’s a decrease of $1,631 per student, when adjusted for inflation. Meanwhile, the average tuition at a public, four-year college in Michigan shot up by 21.5 percent or $2,050 — the 16th largest tuition increase in the country.

“Michigan needs more highly-educated workers to draw employers who pay competitive wages. Their workers will spend those wages in the community, boosting the economy of the entire area,’’ said Karen Holcomb-Merrill, policy director at the Michigan League for Public Policy, which helped release the report. “Smart investments in public colleges and universities will help Michigan’s economy. That’s what our state needs.’’

When the recession hit in 2008 and tax revenue dropped, Michigan, like most states, relied heavily on spending cuts. Michigan is now among just six states asking students and families to shoulder higher education costs (vs. state support) by a ratio of at least 2-to-1, the report found.

In 2013-14, Michigan increased state funding by $190 per full-time student. While that’s a positive step, the report finds 32 other states increased their per-student spending more.

Nationwide, states are spending 23 percent less than they did in 2008 on higher education, and tuition is up 28 percent. As a result, public colleges and universities nationwide have cut faculty positions, eliminated course offerings, closed campuses, shut down computer labs and reduced library services.

In Michigan, tuition is now the sixth-highest in the country and needs-based financial aid has suffered, particularly for students over 30 years old. Due to the elimination of several grant programs in 2009, no existing grant programs serve this purpose.

To reverse these trends, Michigan needs to make higher education a priority. A large and growing share of jobs will require college-educated workers, and the only way to make sure Michigan students are prepared is to keep higher education affordable. The state is moving in the right direction in requiring universities to limit annual tuition increases to 3.2 percent in order to receive all or part of their funding increases.

In order to make sure Michigan has enough money to fund higher education adequately, lawmakers must reject income tax rollbacks that have been introduced this session. They should also tread lightly in using general fund dollars to repair Michigan’s battered roads as other sources of revenue (fuel taxes) are available.

“More jobs in the future will require college-educated workers,” said Michael Mitchell, policy analyst at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and author of the report. “For the sake of its economy and future workforce, Michigan should start reinvesting in its colleges and universities now.”

The Michigan League for Public Policy,, is a state-level policy institute dedicated to economic opportunity for all. The Center’s full report can be found at:


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