By COLLIN KRIZMANICH
Capital News Service
LANSING — Gov. Rick Snyder’s move to increase higher education funding separates him from a number of gubernatorial peers in Republican-run states who are proposing dramatic cuts to public universities.
“We have a governor who is keeping higher education as a priority as he starts his second term,” said Mike Boulus, executive director of the Presidents Council, which represents Michigan’s 15 public universities.
Under Snyder’s budget proposal, Michigan’s universities would receive an additional $28 million, or 2 percent, to go toward university operations. Community colleges would receive an additional $4.3 million, or 1.4 percent, in state funding.
In order to receive the additional funding, universities must limit tuition increases to 2.8 percent or less.
In a press release, Snyder said these funding increases reaffirm education as a state priority. Some higher education advocates agree.
“I’m relieved by the budget proposal,” said Marjorie Sarbaugh-Thompson, a political science professor at Wayne State University. “Looking at Wisconsin, it could be a whole lot worse.”
In Wisconsin, Republican Gov. Scott Walker has proposed slashing $300 million, or 13 percent, from the University of Wisconsin school system. In addition to funding cuts, Walker also proposed altering the mission of the University of Wisconsin system to emphasize job preparation and eliminate the search for truth. That position was reversed after a statewide backlash.
Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana is also expected to seek cuts to higher education, projected to be as high as $400 million, when he proposes his budget later this month.
Future political ambitions may play a role in other GOP governors’ plans to cut higher education funding.
“I don’t think you can minimize the fact that both Walker and Jindal are probably presidential candidates,” said Brendan Cantwell, assistant professor of higher, adult and lifelong education at Michigan State University.
Education reform and government spending are going to be important issues in both the Republican primary and general election, so these governors may be taking a strong stance to position themselves for a presidential campaign, Cantwell said.
While other Republican-controlled states may be slashing higher education funding, Boulus believes the sentiment in Michigan is different.
“We’re coming off our fourth consecutive year of increases,” Boulus said. “I think the governor and legislature appreciate the need to invest in higher education and are doing so.”
The recent increases still fail to make up for drastic cuts that occurred during the recession. During the last two years of Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s tenure, state funding for higher education was slashed by more than 17 percent. In Snyder’s first year alone, state funding was cut by more than 14 percent.
Even if the Michigan legislature approves the increases in higher education funding proposed by Snyder, many believe that there is still more work to be done.
“We still have a long ways to go,” Boulus said. “We’re not even back to the level of funding during Snyder’s first year.”
When Snyder first took office in 2010, the higher education budget was $1.58 billion, approximately $34 million more than his proposed budget for the coming fiscal year.
While funding is generally projected to increase over the next few years, it probably won’t be at rates that would return the state to levels of funding in 2006 and 2007, Cantwell said.
According to Sarbaugh-Thompson, some universities are still recovering from the cuts signed into law by Snyder in 2011. At that time, Wayne State University experienced a 21 percent cut in its yearly budget.
Overall, she said she would give Snyder a “C” on higher education funding.
While the initial cuts were devastating, Sarbaugh-Thompson said, the recent budget proposal indicates that Snyder does place some value in higher education.
By COLLIN KRIZMANICH