Budget

Ross testifies in Lansing, says cuts unfair, CMU has heavy impact on Michigan economy

George Ross’ message to state lawmakers on Wednesday was clear and concise — state appropriations shrink and universities raise tuition in response.

The university president testified before the state House and Senate Appropriations Higher Education subcommittees about CMU’s budget in response to Gov. Rick Snyder’s recently proposed 23.3-percent cut in funding.

Ross said the university has been making cuts in response to dwindling state funding since 2008. He highlighted several places the university has found efficiencies to make reductions. The university has saved $21 million, he said, by making self-imposed cuts, and CMU has had a $2 billion impact on the state’s economy.

“Ninety-six percent of our undergraduates come from the state of Michigan,” Ross said in his testimony. “We contribute to the state of Michigan mightily.”

All 15 public university presidents have testified before the committee. Ross was joined Wednesday by the presidents of Wayne State University and Western Michigan University, Allan Gilmour and John M. Dunn, respectively.

Kathy Wilbur, vice president of Development and External Relations, said committee members gave Ross and the other university presidents a positive response to their testimonies, but it is unclear if the universities will receive relief in the proposed cut.

Snyder recently proposed a series of cuts to state universities — the highest going to CMU. He also proposed incentive dollars being made available to offset the cuts to 15 percent if schools do not increase tuition beyond 7.1 percent.

“I would be surprised if the 15 percent across the board cut (was decreased),” Wilbur said. “Some days, we fear it could in fact get worse if the tax proposals aren’t accepted by the legislature. In fact, if there’s not some relief that comes from those changes … we still sit here as being in a pretty vulnerable area.”

Ross has previously said any tuition increases the university would implement would be “modest.” He reiterated this in his testimony.

Public universities need to be funded fairly and equitably, he said, and per-pupil public funding should be encouraged.

In a later interview with CM Life, Ross said he understands the governor’s predicament in trying to balance a budget, but it is unfair to students and families who are now paying high rates of tuition compared to three decades before, when tuition represented less than 25 percent of the university’s revenue.

It now accounts for about 75 percent.

“I do believe there will be a healthy set of debate both in the house and senate,” Ross said. “It’s not just higher education (facing cuts); there are a number of highly significant changes.”

WMU spokeswoman Cheryl Roland said it remains to be seen how the legislature reacts to the needs of the universities.

“It’s valuable to be able to state our case and remind legislators of the value that our universities bring to the state and our regions as well,” Roland said.

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