|EMU President: Budgetary Stability Critical|
Michigan residents now see that getting higher education is critical to ensuring a stable financial base in their personal lives, but that comes at a time when the state's universities confront fiscal stability as their biggest worry, said Susan Martin, Eastern Michigan University president.
The worry is not just in terms of the state's budgetary allocation to the 15 four-year universities, but also to the students' ability to pay for college, Ms. Martin said in an interview with Gongwer News Service. If the state's promise grant is eliminated, as the Senate proposed to do in its version of the 2009-10 budget, students at EMU may be forced to delay their educations as they seek work, extend the number of years they attend school as they work while they are in college or switch to other educational settings such as community colleges, Ms. Martin said.
Students should be able to focus more on studying, so they can help build the economy, and not so much on how they will pay for college, Ms. Martin said.
Ms. Martin took over as president of the university in 2008. In the year since, the university, which had been hit with several scandals in previous years over the presidential residence and how the university released information about the slaying of a student, is starting to see enrollment increase, in part because of an effort the university launched to boost overall credit hours.
It is also opening new programs, such as an integrated autism research and treatment center that will work with students from ages three to 26 and their families, and involve faculty and staff from seven different disciplines, and that builds off the school's strengths in training special education teachers.
The value universities provide to the economic well-being of the state is critical, she said. A 2008 study showed that every $1 that just EMU spent netted $42 in economic activity, she said, and an updated study on the economic impact of the Ypsilanti-based school will be published soon.
The economic crisis the state is enduring is part of the reason the university has seen some boosts in enrollment. Ms. Martin said EMU has close relationships with community colleges and some community college students are now moving to EMU for further study.
But while she said she was an enthusiastic supporter of community colleges, the decision by Governor Jennifer Granholm to recommend a 3 percent cut in the university appropriations as part of her 2009-10 budget recommendation in February while holding community colleges harmless was disappointing.
Both the four-year schools and the community colleges will play critical roles in revitalizing the state's economy and should have been treated equally, she said.
While she recognized the difficulties state policymakers faced in resolving budget issues, they had to recognize that Michigan now ranks 50th in terms of support for public universities in the nation. Two decades ago, state support averaged 70 percent of a university's revenues, she said, today at EMU the state share is about 30 percent of the total.
In talking with legislators, Ms. Martin said, she hears constant support for higher education. Getting officials to find a way to meet the needs the state has is very difficult, she acknowledged, but officials had to recognize the programs and services the public wants, such as affordable college educations.
And Ohio lawmakers recently significantly boosted the state's appropriation in hopes of convincing their schools not to raise tuition.
If the state could increase its appropriation to the schools, then the schools could put more assistance towards financial aid for students so they could better afford their educations, she said.
EMU was trying to do its bit, by raising tuition for students by 3.8 percent for the next school year, the smallest increase of any of the public universities, she said.
Even if funding couldn't be increased, providing some assurance of stability, so the universities could plan and not be forced into making mid-year cuts, is equally critical, she said.
"We hope the structural gap can be resolved," she said, "which will give us the certainty to plan."