By CHRIS YAGELO
Capital News Service
LANSING — Upper Peninsula universities are wary of the news that next year’s state budget for higher education will be the same as last year’s budget, as tuition increases still seem likely.
Gov. John Engler signed the 2002-2003 budget for the state’s universities last Monday with no cuts, provided the universities place a cap on tuition increases for the next year.
“This is absolutely unprecedented to reach such early closure on the higher education bill,” said Glenn Stevens, executive director of the Presidents Council, State Universities of Michigan, in a Capital News Service interview.
“Normally, it’s one of the last, if not the last major funding bill that the Legislature agrees to. Last year, it wasn’t technically done until September.”
Each university is allowed to raise tuition 8.5 percent or $425, whichever is greater.
“We recognize the importance of higher education to our quality of life,” said Engler at the signing. “Those who would shortchange higher education risk shortchanging our future, and I won’t allow that.”
The budget totals $1.94 billion, with $1.61 billion of that going to university operations, the same level as last year.
“This year has been a very good year for the universities for two reasons,” Stevens said.
“One, there were no executive reductions (cuts by the governor) in the fall when there were some major reductions in other areas of the state government. Secondly, the commitment on the part of the governor and the Legislature to hold funding even in the higher education and appropriations.”
Northern Michigan University will receive $52 million under the new budget, while Michigan Technological University will take in $55 million and Lake Superior State University is slated to get $14 million, same as last year, provided they keep tuition increases within the specified range.
Increased costs still will force schools to increase tuition and reorganize their internal budgets, however.
Cindy Paavola, director of communications for NMU, said that the continuation budget will help keep the planned deficit of $2 million at NMU down, but some internal reorganization will be needed.
“We’re not 100 percent sure what our enrollment growth will be yet,” Paavola said. “Once we know that, we will have a clearer picture of where we stand.”
“We still anticipate a tuition increase.”
NMU experienced an 8.8 percent increase in tuition over the past year.
The typical undergraduate student at NMU paid $4,357 for tuition during the 2001-2002 school year.
Michigan Tech is another school that could be looking at a tuition increase. Last year, tuition at MTU increased 20 percent, to an average of $5,887 for an undergraduate student.
The MTU Board of Control has yet to set a number for next year’s tuition, but school officials are still celebrating their victory.
“While we fought hard for more money, we were facing a decrease (in funding) of up to 10 percent,” said Dale Tahtinen, MTU vice president for governmental relations. “From that perspective, this is an excellent outcome.”
The state budget also includes $254 million for grants and financial aid programs.
That is highly significant, according to a report by the Presidents Council, because public universities in Michigan disburse more direct financial aid than every other state except California and New York.
“With this early closure, universities can focus on internal budgets and providing financial aid to their students,” Stevens said.
Engler will sign Senate Bill 1100 on Monday, April 8, which shields the funding for community colleges from budget cuts for the next fiscal year.
© 2002, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism
By CHRIS YAGELO