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Cuts in education spending threaten Michigan plans to boost number of grads.

LANSING, Mich. (AP) -- A reduction in state aid going to Michigan's public universities has helped spark skyrocketing tuition and threatens to undermine the state's efforts to dramatically boost its number of college graduates.

While state leaders have paid lip service to increasing the state's commitment to college education, they haven't backed it up with significant resources, other than increases in merit scholarships for college-bound Michigan students.

From the 2003 to 2008 fiscal years, the average state tax allocation nationally for higher education rose 24.1 percent, according to the annual Grapevine report compiled by Illinois State University faculty members. In contrast, Michigan cut its higher-education tax support by 5.1 percent during that period. Michigan was the only state with lower aid levels for universities and community colleges than five years ago.

Universities likely will get a 1 percent funding increase from the state in the budget year starting in October, while community colleges will get a 2 percent bump. That's below the 3 percent boost they expected to get just a few weeks ago.

Michigan's 15 state universities responded to shrinking state funds by raising tuition 35 percent from fall 2004 through fall 2007, based on an enrollment-weighted method reported by The College Board. That's the eighth-highest increase in the nation since the 2004-'05 academica year and well above the national average of 21 percent.

The institutions have no choice, said Greg Rosine, Western Michigan University's senior vice president for advancement and legislative affairs.

"The state of Michigan has taken a deliberate policy step of disinvesting in higher education and putting more of the responsibility on students," Rosine said.


"It's not an accident. This has been a deliberate policy of the state of Michigan."

Travis Carr, a 27-year-old Lansing Community College student, plans to attend Central Michigan University someday to earn a teaching degree. But he's finding it tough to get student loans amid the ongoing national credit crackdown.

He's working up to 60 hours a week at two jobs this summer and taking classes part-time--a tricky time-management formula that squeezes him on both ends.

"If you're trying to make money to afford school, you have to spend so much time at work you can't focus on school," Carr said. "But if you cut back your work hours, you don't make enough to go to school."

Michigan's average tuition for public four-year colleges last school year--$8,508--ranked No. 6 nationally. Only Vermont, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Illinois had higher average tuition costs.

Michigan's public-university tuition increased about 11 percent last year, compared to 6 percent at private colleges.

Next year's announced public-university tuition increases are lower, but still are exceeding the inflation rate.

There are signs higher tuition is pricing some students out of the market.

A total of 289,475 students were enrolled in Michigan's public universities in fall 2007, up less than 1 percent from the year before and a signal that enrollment growth has slowed in recent years. Enrollment at community colleges, where average tuition was $2,338 last year, has increased much faster.

Education is crucial to income. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that adults with a bachelor's degree earned an average of $54,689 in 2006, compared to $29,448 for those with no more than a high school diploma. Adults with advanced degrees earn four times more than those without a high school diploma.

In 2004, Gov. Jennifer Granholm announced she wanted to double Michigan's number of college graduates within a decade--part of her strategy to boost Michigan's sagging economy. The theory: A better-educated workforce will help draw cutting-edge jobs to Michigan.

The need for action was clear. As of 2006, about 26 percent of Michigan's population 25 and older had at least a bachelor's degree. That's below the national average of about 28 percent and far below the rate of the national leader, Massachusetts, where more than 40 percent of people in that age group had a college degree.

But since Granholm made her announcement, she and state lawmakers have cut taxpayer aid to universities. Michigan's sluggish economy has led to lower-than-expected tax revenues, causing years of cuts or the cancellation of spending increases university officials thought were coming.

"We watch what the state has done over the years. Those that giveth also taketh away, and that's been the pattern," said Rosine, who is WMU's chief lobbyist.

At the same time, the state has had to pour money into prisons and Medicaid, the health-care program for low-income residents.

Granholm spokeswoman Liz Boyd said the administration worked during difficult budget years to prevent what she said would have been "draconian cuts" to higher education, and is dedicated now to increasing its investment in universities and community colleges.

But the numbers show Michigan universities continue to get an ever-smaller percentage of their budgets from state aid.

"It's not about there not being enough money in the (state) budget," Rosine said. "It's about setting priorities.... Watch corrections spending over the years. That's an area the state has fully under its jurisdiction, and the priority has been more money for corrections than higher education."

Where the typical Michigan public university used to get more than 60 percent of its operating budget from state funds 20 years ago, the amount now is less than 40 percent--or, in some cases, less than a third.

Michigan State University President Lou Anna Simon said the state risks trouble by ignoring investments in higher education that could pave the way for a brighter economy and stronger communities. Other states--also worried about paying for prisons, Medicaid and other social programs--have managed to do more for higher education than Michigan.

"They're funding higher education. So why aren't we?" Simon asked. "An investment in these kids is an investment in the future. An investment in research pays dividends in the future."
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Title Annotation:around the nation
Publication:Community College Week
Date:Jul 28, 2008
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