Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Higher Education
April 20, 2007
On behalf of my colleagues from Wayne State and Michigan State, I want to thank you for this opportunity to talk about the exciting developments at Michigan’s three research universities.
It seems that when Presidents Reid, Simon and I get together to talk about higher education funding, it is cause for headlines. And that’s fine, because we are eager to discuss our contributions to the state and what we are doing to help the state maintain and expand its economic stability in a highly competitive world.
This is a particularly critical time to be discussing higher education funding, given the deep level of uncertainty surrounding the state budget. This week’s devastating cuts proposed by the House are a direct threat to our colleges and universities, at a time when we are the greatest hope for our state’s turnaround.
We believe strongly that a robust investment by the Legislature in all 15 of Michigan’s public universities is vital to the state’s future economic stability. As a president who oversees three campuses, I would never advocate an appropriation plan that pits one of my campuses against the other.
We want all of our institutions to succeed, because the ultimate beneficiary of our overall work is the state of Michigan. Whether it is Saginaw Valley State, Delta College or the University of Michigan, our state’s universities and community colleges are the path to creating an educated, skilled and flexible workforce for tomorrow.
At the same time, because of our intensive research work and robust technology transfer, Wayne State, MSU and U-M play a unique role in fostering the innovation that can, and will, fuel new industries for Michigan. We expect to be held accountable as we stimulate this activity to transform the state’s economy.
A century ago, industries grew up around natural resources such as water, timber and minerals. In the 21st century, industry wants to be near intellectual resources — the faculty, graduates and spin-offs of research universities. Experts across the country agree that major research universities such as ours are necessary to spark economic growth in “meta-region” economies such as the Great Lakes region.
In fact, just this week, Expansion Management magazine named Ann Arbor the top metro region in the country for what it calls knowledge workers — people who are the foundation of our new economy. The magazine’s editors said that the communities that will thrive in America are those with the presence of a major research university.
We’re extremely fortunate as a state because we have three such institutions.
Our job today is to tell you about our work as the University Research Corridor and how we are helping to transform our state.
I believe I can speak for Presidents Reid and Simon when I say Sputnik was a watershed moment for our generation because of what it did for American science and research.
It caused our institutions — the government, our universities, and America’s corporations — to respond with lightning speed to the prospect of our country falling behind in technology and innovation.
A similar threat is at our doorstep today.
As a nation, we are the best in the world at invention and scientific exploration. We are the very icons of risk-taking, social progress and economic success.
At the University of Michigan alone, our scientists have discovered the genes for cystic fibrosis and Huntington’s disease, and our alumni are responsible for the iPod and Google.
But our state and our nation have a problem.
A number of well-publicized state and national reports have come out in the last couple of years, and all call for a deeper commitment to research and education if we are to remain an economically competitive society. These reports come from such organizations as Lt. Gov. John Cherry’s Commission on Higher Education and Economic Growth; the Council on Competitiveness; the Business Roundtable; and the National Academies.
The authors are varied but the message is consistent: we are at risk if we do not commit to more innovation … more math and science … and more basic research.
Our state’s prominence as a manufacturing giant once meant a high standard of living for people with little formal education. As the Cherry Commission told us, a dangerous side effect of that is a culture that does not place enough value on higher education.
Too many of our young people drop out of high school, and those that do receive their diplomas too often go no further with their education. Fewer than 40 percent of our young people in Michigan are enrolled in college.
Our state absolutely needs educated citizens if we are to remain competitive. We must educate more graduates of our high schools, and we must encourage them to remain in Michigan and contribute to our transformation as an innovative state.
At U-M, commencement is in one week. At Wayne and MSU, their students graduate in two weeks. These graduating students are entering a world unlike the one we knew.
It’s different even from the world of five years ago, when those students were in high school. It is a place that is growing remarkably smaller, and more competitive, every day.
Thomas Friedman, the Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the New York Times, refers to this phenomenon as the flattening of the world. What he means is that we are more connected than ever.
Today, because of staggering achievements in technology, it is the individual — not a nation or a corporation — who has the power to single-handedly affect change.
Obviously, the more educated those individuals, the more competitive and successful they will be. Michigan’s research universities are the critical link in producing those competitive, innovative individuals.
We must remain at the forefront of innovation and research. Because of technological advances, universities around the world are at our heels for the best students and faculty.
For example, China has made it a national goal that 50 of their universities rise to the level of the 100 best institutions in the world.
Presidents Reid, Simon and I can only echo the alarms being rung by the Cherry Commission and others, and strongly reinforce their recommendations for deeper funding, stronger high school curricula, and greater investments in financial support for our students.
Yet our concern is tempered by the deep resolve and leadership of Michigan’s research universities.
As you’ll hear from my colleagues, this resolve can be found in our investments in research and technology transfer, and our commitment to economic development — in our own backyards and throughout the state.
We — university presidents and elected leaders — are at a watershed moment. It is time for the state to leverage its remarkable R&D assets, and maximize the return on its significant investment in these research universities.
As presidents, we pledge our energy and commitment in working with you to create a knowledge-based economy and a high quality of life for all Michigan residents.