Granholm "blasts" tuition hikes; refuses to believe you cannot get something for nothing

I heard this story on WEMU this morning, and I found a link to a written version on mlive, “Granholm blasts tuition hikes.” For the non-Michiganders reading this blog, let me catch you up:

The Granholm in question here is Jennifer Granholm, the governor of Michigan. On the one hand, Granholm (who is a Democrat, by the way) wants to increase college attendance in the state– she’s said a couple of times that she wants everyone in the state to have the opportunity for some sort of higher education, be that an undergraduate degree, associate’s degree, some kind of community college training, etc. On the other hand, she keeps cutting funding to higher education in the state, saying stuff like this:

While acknowledging that what she once called “fat” had already been cut from university budgets, Granholm insisted schools could do more.

“We all know the state has cut funding, but the state has cut funding everywhere,” Granholm said.

Last year (and I don’t remember all the details about this), Granholm promised to not to cut funding to state universities beyond a particular percentage if the universities agreed to not raise tuition too much. The universities (including EMU) held their part of the deal, but the governor’s office didn’t. Here’s what’s happening this year:

Granholm is proposing a 2-percent cut in state aid to universities for fiscal 2006 and wants Michigan’s 15 public universities to hold their tuition increases to inflation for a second straight year.

After four years of state aid reductions, however, officials at the University of Michigan and Michigan State University said they had no choice but to raise the price of undergraduate education. U-M regents approved a tuition increase of 12.3 percent for state residents. MSU trustees approved a 9.3 percent tuition and fee increase for most in-state students.

In a tuition guarantee plan approved last week, Central Michigan University will charge incoming freshmen 19 percent more than last year, with lesser increases for upper classmen. Credit hour rates would be capped for as long as the student is enrolled, up to six years.

As I understand it, Wayne State is going to raise tuition around 19 or 18 percent; I had heard that EMU was going to go up 10 percent, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this news didn’t prompt a higher increase. The way I see it, the state universities are simply responding (correctly, I’m afraid) from the messages they are getting from the state. Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.

Bizarrely, this is setting up a situation where the Republicans are able to look like “the higher education party.” For example:

“(Granholm) cut university funding and now she’s lamenting tuition increases,” said Sen. Michael Goschka, R-Brant, who chairs the higher education budget committee in the Senate. “Part of the reason for the tuition increases is because higher education hasn’t been a priority for her.”

This comment strikes me as extremely accurate and reasonable.

Look, I understand the complexities of the problem here, I really do. The state of Michigan is in the proverbial crapper right now: high unemployment, too much heavy industry, the auto industry is sluggish, etc., etc. Plus the previous (Republican) governor more or less handed Granholm a pretty awful situation tax-wise. She needs to raise taxes, but politically, that would be suicide. So it’s no wonder that Granholm is literally saying that she doesn’t want the state to actually pay for higher education, but she wants it to be there as a financially affordable option for citizens.

It’s an ugly situation, and I hope it is one the state reverses soon. My first job was in Oregon at Southern Oregon University. That school was chronically under-funded (still is, as I understand it), and because the funding from the state was so minimal, SOU was nearly completely “self-funded,” as if it were a private school. The problem is you can’t run a private school on tuition fees that are attempting to be affordable.

In my two years there in the mid 1990s, the result was a “financial crisis” each winter, one where there were rumors of layoffs of faculty and other cuts. These things didn’t happen (and the old-timers claimed the so-called “crisis” was present every year), and for all kinds of different reasons, I don’t see EMU laying off tenure-track faculty. But I really hope that people like Granholm look at situations in Oregon as an example of what not to do with higher education.

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