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EMU prez: Tuition is 'safety valve' for state budget

Legislators know universities are going to make up lost state revenue by raising tuition. In fact, that’s what makes cutting funds to higher education so easy, says Eastern Michigan University President Sue Martin.

Martin knows what she’s talking about. She has a Ph.D. in accounting. She was deputy state treasurer under Govs. William Milliken and James Blanchard, helping formulate state budgets. She’s been in higher education for the past 22 years, with a front row seat as state funding plummeted and tuitions skyrocketed.

A Bridge Magazine analysis  found that Michigan’s public universities are more expensive than public universities in almost any other state, forcing students to pay what amounts to a college tax.

Martin explained how it works:

With Michigan mired in a decade-long recession, state budgets have been tight. Legislators see funding for public universities as an easy place to cut, because “universities have a safety valve of tuition that can be raised” to make up for lost state funding, Martin said.

If the Michigan Department of Transportation loses money, potholes aren’t filled. If public universities lose money, they can raise tuition and keep the lights on and the professors paid -- and everybody's happy.

Everybody, that is, except the students footing larger bills. Michigan students today leave campus with an average of about $25,000 in student loans.

“I paid taxes with the expectation that affordable college education would be there,” Martin said. “To neglect this problem is foolish in the long-term.”

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