Keep higher ed a top priority
Op-ed for Crain's Detroit Business, June 12, 2011
Quality higher education has never been more important to investing in the future of Michigan.
With the Legislature's passage of a new budget, the University of Michigan is absorbing a $48 million loss to our general fund. We will adapt to the short-term pain. We will protect the quality of the academic enterprise, contain costs to ensure a strong return on tax dollars and remain affordable and accessible to students.
We need equally strong resolve from the businesses, communities and organizations we serve. We must make an unyielding commitment to investing in higher education or else risk our collective progress in rebuilding Michigan as a global economic player.
Michigan's taxpayer support for higher education is in the bottom 10 in the nation. To climb into the top 10 most prosperous states, higher education must become a priority.
A strong UM delivers talented faculty and graduates for our state; technologies and innovation for business, industry and health care; and solutions for our neighborhoods and cities. It means more than 2,800 discoveries, 1,337 patents, and 93 startup businesses in the past decade.
We have shown great discipline in our fiscal practices, allowing us to weather difficult economic times more effectively than some universities elsewhere in the country. During a six-year period ending in 2009, we reduced our general fund spending by $135 million. We must reallocate another $100 million by 2012 and identify another $120 million in savings by 2017.
Our cost-cutting spans all operations, from reducing energy consumption by 14 percent last year and avoiding $5.2 million in annual costs, to saving more than $30 million because of changes to employee health benefits. Our faculty and staff now pay 30 percent of their costs under a highly efficient health plan: Last year's average cost to cover our employees was 20 percent less than the national average among private-sector businesses.
In all of these cost-containment efforts, we never lose focus on our mission: academic excellence. That includes budgeting historic levels of financial aid to keep our doors open to qualified students. We want students and parents to know that a typical resident undergraduate with need, with a family income of less than $80,000, pays less to attend UM today than in 2004.
Our graduates lead the way in many fields that are defining Michigan's new economy. Alumni report high rates of employment in the fields for which they trained, with more living and working in Michigan than in any other state.
We are confident Gov. Rick Snyder will uphold his pledge to support higher education in the future. The governor, UM, and countless individuals and organizations across our state are working hard to ensure the rejuvenation of Michigan. That must include strong public universities. It is an investment that delivers countless benefits for Michigan and beyond, and is one we cannot afford to squander.