A three percent increase in higher education funding might seem like good news to Michigan public colleges and universities, especially after several straight years of budget cuts. But many are wondering if accepting the extra money will be worthwhile in light of the costs of implementation of several restrictions the state lawmakers have attached to the funding.
Still, the small increase is a step in the right direction, according to the head of Business Leaders for Michigan, Doug Rothwell, although a step that doesn't quite go far enough. The system will need an additional $1 billion in aid, in the next ten years, just to get it to the same point it was when the cuts began.
Since 2007, the higher ed funding in Michigan has fallen by more than 19%, which forced public institutions in the state to cut programs, reduce staff and increase tuition, in order to cover budget shortfalls. While the additional money will go some way to offset the previous cuts, the condition that those schools receiving a slice of the $1.4 billion must commit to, not raise tuition by more than 4%, has some schools doing complicated mathematics to determine if, by accepting, they'd be losing more than they'd gain.
On top of that, state legislators added language about social issues, including that Michigan State University will not qualify for an increase if it follows through on a requirement that incoming students have health insurance. The budget also requires universities to file extra reports with the Legislature on the number of stem-cell lines being used in research at the institutions, and to detail their efforts to accommodate students' religious beliefs in counseling programs (a requirement that stems from a pending lawsuit against Eastern Michigan University).
Furthermore, the universities receiving the state funds must sever all relationships with non-profits engaged in protesting against any company doing business in Michigan, a provision that was backed by the Michigan Restaurant Association. A graduate student at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor was attached to the Restaurant Opportunities Center of Michigan, completing the field work portion of the requirements for the degree in social work, at the time the organization protested and filed a lawsuit against a local restaurant for mistreatment of its employees.
Daniel J. Hurley, director of state relations and policy analysis at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, said such a restriction was "remarkably damaging and intrusive," given the autonomy that Michigan's universities are guaranteed in the state Constitution.
"It's bad policy," Mr. Hurley said.
The new budget has passed both champers of the state legislature and is now awaiting the signature of the state Governor Rich Snyder. There's no indication that Snyder plans to veto the bill, and is projected to sign it in the next few weeks.