EDITORIAL: An open letter to Gov. Rick Snyder
State funding of higher education in 2001-02 was nearly $2 billion. Today, it’s $1.4 billion. Although your recent budget proposals suggest that you recognize there is a problem – it’s time to take larger steps toward repairing the damage.
Before you arrived in office in 2011, state funding of higher education was dwindling, but still remained relatively stable. Each student on Central Michigan University’s campus shared a pot of more than $80 million, or $3,722 per student.
“Michigan’s future is absolutely dependent on making our education system a success for our students, our teachers, our parents and our economy,” is what you said in a letter to the Michigan Legislature in 2011.
However, once you took office, things quickly worsened. You slashed education funding across the board. You cut appropriations to universities by 15 percent, opting instead to provide businesses with $1.8 billion in tax incentives.
Your 15 percent inaugural decrease in funding initially equated to 23.3 percent less appropriations for CMU – the greatest decrease of all public universities in the state. It was difficult, but nonetheless, the university persevered.
University leaders pushed forward to try to make CMU an affordable and appealing place for prospective students. Despite working with $12 million less funding than in fiscal year 2010-11, CMU kept tuition increases below your recommendation.
Your move to decrease funding for higher education made students question your values. It’s difficult to see how you can be interested in "reinventing" our economy while pulling the rug out from underneath one of Michigan’s largest employee bases – college graduates.
According to the most recent census data, 25.5 percent of Michigan’s population has a bachelor’s degree or higher – or about 2.5 million people.
Although you’ve consistently increased state appropriations for higher education since your initial cut – with a 3 percent increase in fiscal year 2013, 2 percent in 2014 and 6.1 percent for 2015 – it still hasn’t filled the hole you created in 2011.
Perhaps it’s time you begin looking at CMU, and all other public universities within the state, as a business rather than an expenditure – at least from the perspective of state aid.
CMU is the largest employer in Mount Pleasant. We have 2,592 faculty and staff working with nearly 27,000 students. In 2013, CMU turned out more than 2,000 bachelor's degrees to graduates from our main campus.
We are feeding the workforce – so why only support us once we leave college?
We have residential halls and other buildings on campus that haven’t seen significant renovations in decades. We have fixed-term faculty whose jobs are on the line this year.
Despite hardships, our campus continues to serve as an economic engine for the state. With 220,000 graduates – 124,000 living in Michigan – we fuel business. We only ask that you continue to fuel our university.
Stop treating higher education as second class to nearly every business in the state. Recognize our accomplishments.
We are worthy of your investment.
Yes, the proposed budget plan offers the largest education increase since 2001, and we support you in your efforts to tie funding to performance statistics like graduation rates, administrative costs and research expenditures.
However, this is only a small step in the right direction. Now is the time to be making great strides. We applaud you for turning your focus back toward education, but it’s important to recognize that we are still millions down from where we once were.
CMU and college students across the state need your commitment and support. Show us that you care about higher education and that funding will one day return to where it was before you took office.
Your investment could mean more scholarships, building projects, better programs. It could prevent deficits and grow enrollment.
Your investment in higher education is an investment in Michigan. It’s an investment in providing businesses with the best employees our university can provide. It’s an investment in attracting more people to the state.
Most importantly, it’s an investment in our future.