EDITORIAL: Bridging the gap

Although Central Michigan University is slated to receive an additional $6 million in state appropriations for 2015, more needs to be done to ensure our university receives a fair amount of funding.

Under the current budget, each CMU student is sharing from $73.5 million – or around $3,600 per student. At Northern Michigan and Lake Superior State universities, students receive about $5,600 per year.

On Thursday, University President George Ross testified before state legislators, pointing out significant funding disparities among public universities.

“Why should that same student be worth $9,500 at Wayne State?” Ross asked members of the Michigan Senate Higher Education Committee. “We believe it is time to fix that inequity.”

According to the most recent Business Leaders for Michigan Scorecard, CMU’s public peers are receiving, on average, more than $3,000 more per student from the state.

We agree with Ross.

Like he said, state dollars need to be following the students and not the institution.

“If the student chooses to go to Michigan Tech or to Wayne State or to Michigan State, those dollars should follow those students there,” Ross continued.

According to Michigan Senate notes from the fall of 2013, state appropriations are determined on three primary factors: Undergraduate completion in critical skill areas (22.1 percent), research and development expenditures (11.1 percent) and six-year graduation rates (66.7 percent).

Although STEM degrees – science, technology, engineering and math – are important skill sets for graduates to have heading into the workforce, the state’s tight definition discredits a significant number of students studying different fields.

Ross argued that many jobs, such as business leadership positions and lawyers, are not factored into the equation because the state does not recognize them as “critical skill degrees.”

Many of CMU’s most popular programs do not fall under STEM classification that places an unnecessary financial burden on our students.

Secondly, research and development expenditures should hold less weight in the appropriation process. Although each public university has a responsibility for development, education should be the primary focus, not research.

CMU spent just more than $2.5 million on research and sponsored programs, according to its 2013-14 operating budget. Michigan State University spends more than $50 million annually on research.

By giving more funding consideration to universities that place a an emphasis on research, it’s unfair to universities, like CMU, that place their financial focus on our undergraduate education.

Finally, Ross said Michigan’s third caveat for state appropriations, six-year graduation rates, fits the economic realities of most families within the state.

When the university presidents in attendance Thursday were asked their thoughts on adjusting the six-year graduation rate factor of appropriations to a four-year measure, Ross disapproved.

Although CMU could place a greater emphasis on expediting graduation – representing an average freshman four-year graduation rate of 20 percent – it’s unfair to our students who are intentionally taking an alternative route.

Many students need employment to pay for the rising cost of tuition and other expenses. Typically, this results in fewer credit hours and an increased amount of time spent at CMU – and we should not be penalized for it.

Although it’s impossible to tell if Ross’ testimony has made any impact on the state budgeting process, it’s clear that he is fighting for our students and for our university.

Twenty years ago, state appropriations accounted for more than 60 percent of our operating budget. Today, that figure is below 20 percent.

If CMU is going to regain leverage for state appropriations, either the state or our university needs to make operation changes. On Thursday, Ross showed that these aren’t changes that should fall on university shoulders.

Rather than tout our accomplishments, Ross advocated for real change. He addressed a broken system and proposed solutions for fixing it – and that was an important step for higher education statewide.


Comments powered by Disqus

Please note All comments are eligible for publication in Central Michigan Life.