By Fritz Klug
The Michigan House Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee held a hearing for students to voice their concerns about the state’s higher education funding on Wednesday, March 3 in East Lansing’s Kellogg Center.
It was the first time that the committee heard directly from students.
“We always hear from university presidents, but now we have a real face and story to talk about [funding],” said Rep. Joan Bauer (D-Lansing), committee chair.
Students from Wayne State University, Northern Michigan University, Eastern Michigan University and Michigan State University testified on how a decrease in state funding has affected them.
The state has consistently cut higher education in the last decade. In 2002, Michigan gave higher education $1.9 billion in funding, which has decreased by $500 million as healthcare expenses have increased.
Gov. Jennifer Granholm has proposed $1.5 billion for higher education in her 2011 executive budget.
Many of the students said that while they understand this problem, there should be some way to find revenue to fund higher education.
“[The state is] a crew navigating a ship towards an iceberg,” said Mitchell Rivard, president of the MSU College Democrats.
“All [the legislature] is doing is rearranging deck chairs on a sinking ship.”
Rivard said that decrease in state funding forces students to go further into debt.
“An education tax is essentially what it is,” he said. “We cannot afford to balance the budget on the backs of students any longer.”
Rivard said that he came from a middle class family that makes enough money to not qualify for need-based financial aid, but not enough to pay for a university education.
“There were numerous times when we literally sat around the kitchen table trying to find ways to afford to keep me attending Michigan State University.”
While Granholm has proposed a tax on some services, EMU Student Body President Regina Royan said that they would not be enough given the current trends in funding.
“We need to take a hard look at a longterm solution,” she said.
The committee agreed with Royan’s suggestion, but each representative had different ideas of what that would look like.
Rep. Bob Genetski (R-Saugatuck) wondered what would be better — an extra $1,000 in taxes or an extra $1,000 in tuition.
“We’re not an interest group,” said NMU Associated Students of Northern Michigan University President Jason Morgan.
“We’re kids and families trying to go to school.”
Memories of the elimination of the Michigan Promise from the last approved executive budget loomed in the crowd. Many of the students who testified were part of the campaign to save the scholarship. Granholm’s 2011 executive budget proposes to reinstate to the scholarship as a tax credit one year after graduation – if they stay in Michigan.
“It’s better than nothing,” said Wayne State Senate President James Gale.
Gale said that students would still have to take out $4,000 more in loans.
In an interview after the hearing, Rep. Bauer said 30 percent of revenue came from tuition and 70 percent came from the state when she attended Western Michigan University. Today, those values have swapped. Even while she said her parents didn’t have a lot of money, and were probably stressed about paying for college, she did not graduate with loans like students today.
“This is a very dangerous path that we’re on, looking at the past 40 years,” she said. “We’re [not investing] in higher education.”
Bauer said that the reason why the Michigan Promise and appropriations continue to be cut are because there is no new revenue coming into the state.
“There was no will to raise revenue, so we did an all-cuts-budget last year,” she said.
When asked if there will be a will this year to raise revenue, Bauer shrugged.
“No,” she said.