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Coleman talks higher education budget before committee

Daily News Editor
Published March 2, 2011

LANSING — Since he took office in January, Republican Gov. Rick Snyder has repeatedly spoken about the “shared sacrifice” required to right Michigan’s economy and balance the state’s budget. In response, University President Mary Sue Coleman and presidents from other public universities across the state have been preparing for potential cuts to higher education funding, while still emphasizing the importance of higher education to the state's long-term fiscal health.

Snyder’s budget proposal calls for a 15-percent across-the-board cut to the state’s higher education appropriations. But schools will receive even less money from the state if the cost of their in-state tuition increases by more than 7.1 percent — the state average of tuition increases over the past five years. If the University increases tuition above this percentage, it will see about a 20 percent reduction in state funding.

Despite the prospect of facing such a large cut in state funding, University officials said they knew drastic reductions were coming, and they’ve been preparing for the scenario for several years.

In an interview with The Michigan Daily last month, University President Mary Sue Coleman said the University has projected cost savings for the next several years to ensure the University’s financial solvency. She added that the University began cutting costs five or six years ago to prepare for potential budget cuts.

"We’re in a cycle now to continue the cost savings," Coleman said. "We’ve even projected out to 2017 because in our view we’re going to have to make ourselves more efficient, get value for every dollar that’s being spent (and) make tough decisions because we don’t see the economic climate in the country bouncing back any time soon.”

In a continuing effort to reduce costs, University Provost Philip Hanlon said in an interview last month that the University has undertaken cost savings measures by combining several IT units— saving the University $7 million, and by decreasing the amount of general fund money given to the schools within the University by $20 million.

“Looking ahead to the next fiscal year (the cuts) could get deeper, but that’s what we’re executing right now,” Hanlon said. “That’s having impacts on how often small classes are offered (and) the hiring of staff. We’re doing our absolute best to protect our core academic missions and have the impact on students be as minimal as possible."

On Wednesday, Coleman joined Grand Valley State University President Thomas Haas, Ferris State University President David Eisler and Oakland University President Gary Russi in testifying before the state Senate and House Appropriations Subcommittees on Higher Education at the State Capitol in Lansing.

In her testimony before the House subcommittee, Coleman emphasized the University’s commitment to cutting costs and its dedication to ensuring that tuition is affordable for all students. The University plans to reduce costs by $100 million by 2012 and by another $120 million by 2017.

Coleman also said the University has offered “historic” levels of financial aid to students in recent years.

“These extraordinary amounts of support mean that a typical Michigan resident undergraduate student with an income of under $80,000 pays less today than in 2004,” Coleman said. “… We are a better bargain today than when I first came to the University in 2002.”

A 15-percent slash in state funding would translate into a nearly $47.5 million reduction in state funding from the current $316 million state dollars allocated to the University. That amount would increase by about $14 million, or 5.2 percent, if the University doesn’t meet the state’s tuition guidelines.