By JOE DANDRON
Capital News Service
LANSING — Michigan lacks sufficient financial support for public colleges and universities and that’s hurting overall prosperity in the state, a recent study said.
The study by the Center for the Study of Education Policy at Illinois State University and the Michigan Higher Education Executive Officers Association ranked Michigan as the No. 44 state in per resident support for higher education.
It said the state government provides only $197.79 per resident in funding for public higher education on average. The national average is $295.05.
With higher sticker prices that often scare students, public colleges and universities depend on state aid to help students afford a degree.
In response to the study, the Michigan Association of State Universities said, “If Michigan were at the national average, we would be investing nearly a billion dollars more this year in our students, and in turn, would be better able to meet today’s employer needs and create a more prosperous economy.”
The association is a consortium of the 15 public universities in the state.
The figures focus on appropriations for public universities and community colleges.
“It’s important to realize, people talk about it being ‘funding,’ but we see it as an investment,” said Michael Hansen, the president of the Michigan Community College Association., which represents all 28 public community colleges.
“Our main focus is education. A big mission of our colleges is providing high quality education and low cost,” Hansen said.
The state, according to the association, ranks No. 31 nationally in the percentage of residents with a four-year college degree.
Hansen said community colleges are at a funding disadvantage because of their smaller size in comparison to four-year universities.
“The programming we do at community colleges is more technical,” Hansen said. “A lot of that is research or grant-funded at four-year universities.”
In September, the Legislature approved $1.68 billion for higher education, less than a 1% increase after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer proposed an almost-3% increase.
“Higher education is known as the balancing wheel in most states,” said Bob Murphy, the director of university relations and policy at the Association of State Universities. “If the Legislature doesn’t want to see high tuition, someone has to pay.”
The study said Michigan increased its support for higher education by10.7% between the 2015-20 fiscal years. By contrast, Colorado increased its higher education spending by 42.2% over the same time.
This study shows that the states with some of the highest percentage of college graduates — Minnesota and Illinois among them – are among the most prosperous economically.
Daniel Hurley, the chief executive officer of the Association of State Universities, said, “We know from federal employment data that in states with a higher proportion of college graduates, even workers without a degree also tend to earn more.
“That’s because college graduates are better able to pay skilled trades workers for home and vehicle work, service economy workers, health care workers and others, providing a rising income tide that lifts all workers in a state,” Hurley said.
While state aid from the budget plan isn’t going to increase at least until the next statewide budget, a bill creating the Michigan Reconnect Grant Program is awaiting Whitmer’s signature.
The program would help those 25 and older with high school diplomas and GEDs receive financial assistance to seek two-year associate’s degrees and other skills certification.
Murphy said, “It’s a common idea — the more you learn, the more you earn.
Reconnect aims to increase “the number of Michigan residents aged 25 to 64 with a college degree or skill certificate or credential to 60% by 2030,” according to a House Fiscal Agency analysis.
Separate legislation would free up funding for the grant program.