Opinion | Michigan is now 44th in per-resident support for higher ed

Daniel Hurley

Daniel Hurley is CEO of the Michigan Association of State Universities

As state officials work toward the state’s fiscal year 2020 budget, new data show how far our state has fallen in supporting higher education, putting the burden of financing a college education on the backs of families and students and impeding our ability to compete for high-paying knowledge economy jobs.

Michigan today ranks 44th nationally in per resident support for higher education, at $195.52, compared to a national average of $280.60, according to data compiled by the Center for the Study of Education Policy at Illinois State University and the State Higher Education Executive Officers (SHEEO). In 2001, our state ranked 20th in the nation in per-resident support for higher education at $230.56 per resident – which is $35 higher than today’s per-resident support before considering inflation.

If Michigan appropriated support for higher education at the national average, we would invest about $850 million more in our state’s public universities – a figure that could dramatically lower college expenses for Michigan students and families, encourage additional less affluent students to attend college, and help provide the talent needed for the best-paying jobs in today’s economy.

Adjusted for inflation, Michigan appropriated about $2.8 billion in higher education in 2001. In the fiscal year 2019 budget, the state contributed about $1.7 billion. That’s more than a billion-dollar cut in state support for higher education. Those cuts, plus increased spending on student scholarships and financial aid by universities, account for nearly all of the higher tuition rates students face at public universities in Michigan.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer proposed a 3 percent increase for higher education for the coming fiscal year, a modest effort toward restoring state funding. But the Senate has slashed that to 1 percent, and the House to just 0.4 percent. With the current Consumer Price Index inflation rate of 1.8 percent, those small increases amount to a continued disinvestment in higher education.

As lawmakers move toward completion on the state’s budget, they should remember that college graduates are the vital ingredient in a successful knowledge economy – one with high-paying jobs. We are winning Amazon warehouses, with $15-an-hour jobs. We didn’t even get a serious consideration for Amazon’s HQ2 jobs, paying $100,000 a year.

It’s also important that lawmakers realize there is a direct relationship between inadequate appropriations for universities and higher student loan debt for less-affluent students. Today, about 40 percent of Michigan public university students graduate with no debt. But the remainder have a debt that on average approaches $30,000 – and that likely is one reason Michigan’s college-going rate among high school seniors is below the national average.

Contrary to the belief of many, data from the Michigan Bureau of Labor Market Information and Strategic Initiatives predict that between now and 2026, the average number of Michigan job openings requiring a four-year degree or higher will grow by 11 percent, while jobs requiring a high school diploma, apprenticeship and on-the-job training will increase by only 4.9 percent. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s plan to have 60 percent of Michiganders earn a postsecondary degree or high-quality certificate by 2030 calls for 700,000 additional credentialed workers – 500,000 of them four-year college graduates. That’s compared to about 2.2 million persons with a four-year degree or better today.

Michigan used to be a leader in valuing higher education. In the 1950-2000 era, we built one of the finest groups of universities in the nation, thanks in large part to adequate state support. Our universities are still among the best in nation – and the world. But we have shifted the burden of paying for a college education onto students and parents, and in the process we risk reducing the quality our employers demand and leaving behind young people from less affluent families.

It’s hard to convince good-paying, knowledge-economy companies to invest in our state when we are unwilling to invest in ourselves. Lawmakers must recognize their role in improving college affordability, reducing student debt, and meeting the real talent needs of Michigan employers by supporting higher education as Gov. Whitmer proposed in the fiscal year 2020 state budget.

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Tue, 09/03/2019 - 8:26am

It is from the dumbing down of the state legislature on what they think is important.

Wed, 09/04/2019 - 9:39am

Dumbing down people is what the republicans love to do they know that educated people will not vote for them!!!!

Dave Coulier
Tue, 09/03/2019 - 9:14am

Not to disparage the profession, but teaching for a total of 8-12 hours of class time a week, with mostly summers off, may well be an area to explore for additional monies needed to cut the higher ed expenses.

Geoffrey Owen
Tue, 09/03/2019 - 12:01pm

Hey Dave, what year did you drop out? "Not to disparage the profession". Every teacher in Michigan will challenge you on the work teachers do and the pay they receive. If we cut teachers where will our kids get an education?

Fri, 09/06/2019 - 7:57am

That's the silliest comment I ever heard. Teachers work is based on salaries with a minimum of student contact hours required in contracts. They work sixty hour work weeks in order to get the most basic job completed. What you describe for a full time educator is something I never saw in forty years of teaching. By the way, you can earn more money working on a truck engine in one hour than you can teaching a classroom of students all day. (Not to demean mechanics in any way, but come on, aren't children our future?)

MI Parent
Tue, 09/03/2019 - 9:32am

It's also hard when Michigan colleges and universities refuse to help our own right here, and instead lure out-of-state students with their largest scholarships. Our son graduated 3rd highest in Macomb County, and UofM only offered him a $1,500 scholarship! He received $40,000 from an out-of-state university and went there instead.

Dr. Doug Templeton
Thu, 09/19/2019 - 12:24pm

No to disparage his choice, but why did he HAVE to go to UM? There are several other first rate schools in MI that offer plenty in scholarships to high academic achievers, with programs equal to, or even better than UM ( and I say that as a holder of a degree from UM). Or was is the erroneous perception that a UM degree will get him more in the real world?

Kevin Grand
Tue, 09/03/2019 - 10:04am

U of M is sitting on an endowment of over $10-billion. MSU is sitting on an endowment of around $1.5-billion.

Mr. Hurley's piece fails to mention those troubling details.

I cannot help but to wonder why?

Geoffrey Owen
Tue, 09/03/2019 - 11:57am

Near the bottom in education. Last in roads. Anyone else see a trend here? We really turned the corner when we cut taxes on business to the point that we take in more from tobacco and alcohol. Those with the bucks won't cut loose so we are balancing the budget on school kids and potholes. Come on Gretchen, Buck Up!

Bob Dunn
Wed, 09/04/2019 - 10:35am

Gretchen is trying. However the Republican legislatures are not willing to pay to improve Michigan. This would mean we have to raise taxes. The Republicans are into cutting taxes on corporations and raising them on retired people. So we race to the bottom on roads and education. Great incentive for businesses to move here and to improve education.

Paul Roese
Tue, 09/03/2019 - 12:50pm

whatever happens with "education" the sports programs at Michigan Universities and colleges must be funded! our coaches should be making $20 million a year as a minimum. the state should encourage more out of state and out of country students in order to increase profits.

Tue, 09/03/2019 - 1:33pm

Only 6 spots to go to reach bottom, c'mon Legislators you cab make it!

Tue, 09/03/2019 - 3:44pm

I wonder why Mr. Hurley and the colleges/universities don't asked the public, taxpayers, voters why they are so resistant to giving them more money.
Mr. Hurley has the same old whine, give us more money but don't hold us accountable, don't expect us describe how we will spend the money and what it will do for students, don't expect us to expand classes for the in demand degrees and reduce the classes in degrees that won't get people hired at a salary that will help them pay for their student loans. Why don't the schools and Mr. Hurley's organization go out and have conversations about the higher education system, its needs, its wants, the publics expectation, and such?

Mr. Hurley and colleges/universities create and impress that they feel above accountability, that feel no responsibilities to those who money they want and spend. I wonder if Mr. Hurley and the colleges/universities have ever felt accountable or responsible, if even understand that all of those whose money they want to spend are accountable and have responsibilities every day in their jobs.

I wonder if they ever ask what we are concerned with and why we should give them more and more money.

David Waymire
Tue, 09/03/2019 - 5:12pm

Actually, Duane, rich people already see the value of college. Rich people are willing to do almost anything to have the right to pay Harvard tuition, let alone the tuition at a state university. So unless you think rich folks are dumb, the market is telling you the value is already there. The problem isn't the value of the degree. The problem is that state budget cuts -- which are due to state tax cuts -- have raised concerns for less affluent families. The universities are stepping in where the state has cut, and are providing a lot of financial aid to less affluent students. That's why they need to fill out the FAFSA. Surveys show more than 80 percent of parents want their kids to get a four year degree or more. The demand is high.

Wed, 09/04/2019 - 4:25pm

I am confused what of my comments you are responding to. My comments started with asking why the universities weren't asking the voters why they are resistant to giving more money to the universities, nothing questioning the value of added education. I also raised a concern about accountability and the universities willingness to be held accountable. I encourage the universities to make their case to voters for more money and frame their story so it fit the voters experience [accountability, responsibility].

Why do you think only the 'rich' value higher education? I don't think one has to be 'rich' to value a university degree, to have benefited from the knowledge gained when earning a university degree, and wanting their children to earn such a degree. I think the legislators reflect their voters attitudes, so why shouldn't the universities have conversations with those voters and respond to their concerns.
I wonder why you think it is 'dumb' for voters of any socio-economic status to expect accountability and responsibility of those who are spending their tax dollars. Why should universities not be held accountable, not have to market their value, and not justify their requests for more taxpayer money by describing how it will be spent?

David Waymire
Fri, 09/06/2019 - 11:52am

You say..."My comments started with asking why the universities weren't asking the voters why they are resistant to giving more money to the universities." My response was that poll after poll after poll shows VOTERS are ready to support additional spending for universities. Its the Legislature that is standing in the way. I don't think only wealthy families value higher education. But when we cut support and rely more and more heavily on tuition, it's harder and harder for non-affluent families to make it work. So the net effect of budget cuts is to undercut the ability of middle class families to send their children to college -- which is, as noted, the best path to prosperity.

Fri, 09/06/2019 - 9:08pm

My view is that if you truly want to deliver better results you start with what you want to achieve, decide on how you will deliver it, and then determine how much it will cost. When you start with the money all you are interested in is the money and results are simply an excuse to get the money.
Have you tried to understand the reasons why many of the children of non-affluent parents struggle with learning while many of those children of affluent parents are more successful at learning, or do only see money as the reason for difference in learning performance?
Have you considered how the actions of parents speak so loudly that their children can't hear what they're saying?

Tue, 09/03/2019 - 8:07pm

If this under funding of Higher Ed is causing the hardships you claim, are we seeing a big shift away from four year U's and into much much cheaper community colleges for at least the first couple years as kids are forced to economize? But to save you the time, enrollment at community college has been declining steadily for the last 10 years! So either students are ignorant or don't care about tuition costs (wherefore why should we?) or there are plenty of funding alternatives making your complains moot. Or what else explains this disinterest in saving ones tuition money?

Thu, 09/05/2019 - 11:33am

The binary thinking of the American libertarian. Lower community college enrollment? IT MUST BE THAT STUDENTS DON'T CARE ABOUT MONEY. How do you people function?

Ben W. Washburn
Tue, 09/03/2019 - 9:41pm

Firstly, I'll grant that I would expect the head of a group of university administrators to put forth a message that best fulfills their more narrow personal interests.
But, I was also surprised that, in their data defense, there is only about a $100 per taxpayer difference between us and the middle support for public university education among the 50 states. I doubt that many of us would feel any significant remiss for coughing-up another $100 per year just to be in that middle mix.

I would, however, be concerned, if our Legislature authorized an increase of that size, and then that the most of it then went to increase the salaries of university professors and assistants.
For the past 35 years, the most of us have had not just no increase, but constant decreases in our take-home incomes. Do those folks out there in those ethereal confines of academia really relate to what's going-on around them today? Are most of their heads still stuck in those glory-days of the 1960s?
I would support a tax increase of 3X as much to truly underwrite the cost of a college education, provided that at least 90% went into reducing that cost to students and their parents. But, I would not support an increase which mainly goes to jacking-up the income of professors and their assistants.


Thu, 09/05/2019 - 10:00am

I agree that college costs, as paid by middle class families, are too high. But the reason is not that instructors are paid high salaries. If Michigan's legislature and taxpayers were to cough up another $100/person in support to higher education, it almost certainly would NOT be spent on hiring and paying more professors and assistant professors. Over 60% of the people teaching, especially those teaching undergraduates in our state colleges and universities are contingent workers, hired at very low wages for one semester at a time. Most adjunct instructors at Michigan's colleges and universities are earning only around $15/hour for their time spent teaching, grading, supervising labs, or in mandatory office hours and receive no health insurance or retirement benefits. That's less than the (now lower than in 2008!) average wage that a typical Michigan factory worker earns per hour. The instructors who are graduate students do at least get an additional tuition "waiver" that subsidizes their studies. Those who are purely "adjunct" get nothing but a small, short-term pay check.

University instructors, especially the part-time ones, almost certainly deserve a raise, but won't get one until the hordes of full-time administrators, like the author of this piece, who earn generous salaries with benefits are reined in. And *then* lets talk about athletic department salaries as compared to what the average faculty member earns.

Michigan Observer
Tue, 09/03/2019 - 10:57pm

Mr. Hurley failed to offer any support for his many assertions. How about annual figures for state support, percentage of Michigan residents with four year degrees or better, how many of those degree holders are imports from other states, what percentage of Michiganders who earned a degree left the state after graduation..

Wed, 09/04/2019 - 3:22pm

Who wants to stay in a state that doesn’t support education?

Wed, 09/04/2019 - 5:49pm

Excellent points. So how about instead of pumping money into the U's themselves, why not devise a system helping college grads by reimbursing them part of their past tuition expenses (maybe thereby helping with their loans)? This way those who leave MI are not our problem and we only spend our money on those that stay? Maybe a 50 - 100% state tax credit toward past tuition for some number of years? We'd be smart not to limit it only to Michigan kids, as poaching other state's grads is the best deal of all for us! Somehow I suspect that this isn't really what Mr. Hurley had in mind!!!

Thu, 09/05/2019 - 11:35am

Probably because it's a dumb idea. Why not just move to a free college model at that point? Why screw around with reimbursement?

Sat, 09/07/2019 - 9:37pm

The ideas has some very positive ramification. It creates an added incentive [something that seems to be lacking in many potential students] for students and it allows the marketplace [students] decide where to go to school.
Rather than create another state agency and added staffing, what if employers were given a tax credit [up to a maximum] for a prorated recognition bonus for each degreed Michigan college graduate they employed, spreading it over 5 years of employment. For hiring graduates from other states, allow for a similar tax credit, maybe slightly reduced. In both case there would be added incentives to create degrees jobs and it might raise the number of degree people in the state without any added expense except the actual tax credits.