Higher education ignored in Gov. Rick Snyder's State of the State address
Despite optimism in Lansing last week, Gov. Rick Snyder's State of the State address left many at Central Michigan University wondering how they might fit in if he is reelected.
Orlando Perez, a CMU political science professor, was hoping for talk of re-investment in higher education, but was instead left "very disappointed" by the governor as the issue was not addressed.
"Perhaps he had nothing constructive to say," Perez said. "Higher education is clearly not one of his priorities. That is unfortunate, as higher education is an important factor in revitalizing the state’s economy."
Snyder, who signed into law a 15-percent higher education funding cut in 2011, avoided the topic during his address, which was largely aimed at highlighting his administration's successes so far and reaching out to swing voters and conservatives ahead of his re-election bid.
State Sen. Judy Emmons, R-Sheridan, had a more optimistic take on the governor's omission following the governor's speech.
"Maybe higher education is doing that job that needs to be done," Emmons said, pointing to CMU's new College of Medicine as a sign of higher learning institutions recognizing opportunities and taking them.
While acknowledging growing student loan debt rates, State Rep. Kevin Cotter, R-Mount Pleasant, said higher education is a priority for him and Republican leadership, even if the governor didn't speak on it during the address.
"Higher education is very important to me," Cotter said. "Restoring affordable higher education is a priority. Part of that is making sure universities keep their tuition rates low. CMU, for instance, has done very well when it comes to keeping rates low."
Tuition rates at CMU rose by 2.47 percent for on-campus undergraduates in fall 2013. The $9 increase brought the price per credit hour to $374.
On-campus graduate students will see a 1.89-percent increase ($485 per credit hour) for master and specialist degrees. Doctoral graduate tuition will also increase by 1.82 percent ($558 per credit hour). Both undergraduate and graduate students enlisted in the military will continue paying tuition at the same rate – $263 and $288 per credit hour, respectively.
“We contemplate these rates with a deep sense of responsibility,” said University President George Ross at the April 2013 CMU Board of Trustees meeting. “We’re serious about tuition restraint.”
State appropriations are up 3.97 percent at CMU in 2013-14 from 2012-13, but the university is still down $6 million in state funding from before Snyder's cut. Funding has been rapidly declining over the past several years, from well above half of CMU's total revenue 20 years ago to under 20 percent now.
"Students and parents are rightly concerned about the increases in tuition to attend the state’s universities," Perez said. "A significant reason why tuition has gone up is that universities must find revenue to make up for the cuts in state funding, particularly if they are to maintain a reasonable level of services and provide quality academic programs."
Balanced budget amendment
Snyder made frequent note of the state's roughly $1 billion surplus throughout his address.
While he shied away from proposing anything concrete to do with that money, only going so far as to suggest a vague tax cut, Snyder did call on the Legislature to pass a resolution calling on Congress to get the ball rolling on a so-called Balanced Budget Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. This would require the federal government to operate without a deficit each year.
Snyder, who has mostly kept quiet on national issues during his time in office, received thunderous applause from the Republican lawmakers in attendance, including Cotter.
"I couldn't be happier," Cotter said. "Not only is this the right thing to do for the federal government, it's a way to show them that Michigan can be an example."
Perez said Snyder was just grandstanding, and any chance of an amendment is slim to none.
"I don’t think it will have a major effect," Perez said. "As I understand it, this would be a symbolic resolution urging the national Congress to pass a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution. At this time, it will have no measurable effect. This was a distraction. The governor and state legislators should be concerned with Michigan’s budget."