CMU President George Ross calls on state to change performance-based funding during Senate testimony
LANSING, Mich. — Seven key areas determining how Central Michigan University receives state funding should be reformed, said University President George Ross.
“Why should a student at CMU be supported by less than $3,600 per year in state funding, while a student at Northern Michigan or Lake Superior State are supported by more than $5,600 per year?" Ross asked members of the Michigan Senate Higher Education Committee. "Why should that same student be worth $9,500 at Wayne State? We believe it is time to fix that inequity."
Testifying in front of the committee Thursday at Michigan State University, Ross called for changes to the state's performance-based higher education funding system.
Ross also used the testimonial to acknowledge the successes of CMU under the current standards.
Chief among his suggestions was a call for fairer college-by-college funding per student.
Ross called on the Legislature to move away from using a four-year graduation rate to determine success. More students than ever are working jobs to pay for college and have to reduce course loads, he said.
"It ignores the economic realities of most Michigan families," he said.
Additionally, Ross said the state should separate research and development from funding decisions, arguing it is inherently unfair to universities like CMU that focus on undergraduate education.
He urged the Legislature to expand its definition of critical skills degrees beyond science, technology, engineering and mathematics degrees.
"If we penalize students with non-STEM degrees, Michigan will not meet the needs of its residents and its businesses," Ross said, adding many in-demand jobs including business leadership positions and lawyers are not counted.
Ross also suggested rewarding colleges that keep administrative costs low and keep graduates working in Michigan – an ideal CMU has achieved.
"We can debate all we want, but those states and nations with the most highly-educated populations are the strongest," Ross said. "We want Michigan to be the strongest."
The committee meeting began at 1 p.m. Ross arrived an hour after the session began. Ross said he was traveling from Saginaw, where he and several students handed out valentines to veterans at the city's veterans' hospital.
Stating their case
Ross was the final university representative to testify.
Michigan State University President Lou Anna K. Simon and University of Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman were among those who also testified.
Coleman, who is set to retire in June, was commended by the three-member committee for her service as U-M's president, during which she was named one of the 10 best presidents in the United States by Time magazine.
Following Ross' testimonial, Sen. Howard Walker, R-Traverse City, defended the system in regard to per-student funding.
"Coming from northern Michigan, I would argue for, and I think valid arguments can be made for, additional costs relative to the delivery of service in the area of legacy costs ... and (Michigan Public School Employees Retirement System) costs, and different types of curriculum that vary in cost," Walker said.
Ross, in response, argued equitable funding would be more fair for undergraduate students deciding which college to attend.
"We believe the dollars should follow the students, and not the institution, including CMU," Ross said. "If the student chooses to go to Michigan Tech or to Wayne State or to Michigan State, those dollars should follow those students there. That's all."
During his testimony, Ross took time to applaud Gov. Rick Snyder's budget proposal that would increase higher education funding by 6.1 percent statewide. Despite calling the increase "significant," Ross acknowledged that more needs to be done in terms of educational-base funding.
"This investment in our young people and our state residents is as important as anything we can do to expand Michigan's revitalization," he said.
In his proposal, Snyder called on Michigan universities to limit tuition increases for full funding. Ross said in order to fall in line with Snyder's request, and to keep CMU comparable to other state universities, he and other officials have worked actively to keep tuition increases and administrative costs as low as possible.
"Like the governor, I'm a nerd," Ross said. "I'm a CPA, I'm an accountant by trade. I believe in fiscal responsibility and accountability."
After speaking with the committee chair, Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker, R-Lawton, Ross spoke about the political feasibility of his proposals and remained optimistic.
Schuitmaker told Ross following the meeting the committee is looking into holding its testimonies at CMU next year.