|Our Voice: More College Graduates would Help Michigan Grow, Prosper|
February 27, 2011/The Saginaw News
By Editorial Board
Perhaps the only good thing that can be said about the red ink flowing around the state is that it’s going to force leaders at every level to seek long-term solutions to ensure not only Michigan’s full economic recovery but future growth.
That must include making college affordable for all Michigan residents.
Yet, what we see is just the opposite. Gov. Rick Snyder proposes cuts in state spending on universities, and those schools eyeing more tuition increases to make up the money.
Instead, state and university leaders need to think outside those boxes.
For instance, a couple of years ago, two Democratic lawmakers proposed raising the state income tax from the 4.35 percent it was at the time to 5.5 percent, and giving a refund on tuition and fees to students of families earning less than $127,000 a year.
Also, in an editorial three years ago, The Bay City Times crunched the numbers and found that raising the state sales tax by just 1 cent — 1 cent! — on the dollar, would be enough to provide free college tuition for every Michigan resident with the grades required to get into a public university.
The paper suggested putting stipulations on the gift, such as students would have to maintain at least average grades earn the degree in a reasonable amount of time and stay in the state after graduation for at least five years or repay tuition.
Imagine what that would do for our economy.
While taxpayers might feel a little pinch, the ultimate payout of more college graduates would be worth it. Without an educated population, our state will never have the resilience or enjoy the kind of economic growth other states have.
And that’s regardless of Gov. Snyder’s proposed elimination of the business tax and other measures intended to make Michigan more attractive to employers.
Indeed, if Snyder and others truly want to make Michigan attractive to businesses, then a free or at least affordable college education for all Michigan residents would be a sound investment.
Studies bear out that metropolitan areas with the highest per-capita income levels also are those with the highest rates of people who hold college degrees.
We’re not doing all that well in Michigan. Less than a quarter of all adults in our state have four-year degrees. That places Michigan behind the national average and behind other Great Lake states, such as Minnesota.
So, it makes sense to put more resources into higher education so that low- and middle-income families can afford to send their children to college.
But are we doing that? No. In fact, in the $45 billion budget plan Gov. Rick Snyder unveiled, he proposes a 15 percent cut in appropriations to Michigan’s 15 public universities.
That includes Saginaw Valley State University, where, officials say, the cut really adds up to 20 percent or more, with an incentive grant for universities that keep tuition increases around 7 percent or less.
The proposed cut is substantial, but reductions in state aid are not new for the universities. They have been the norm, in fact, over the past few decades, which is why annual tuition increases are practically a given.
How can the state convince more young people to earn degrees, especially in this economy, with tuition rising out of their reach?
The solution requires a change not only in the state income or sales tax, but in the public’s attitude about higher education. A buy-in, if you will. Or, to use the governor’s pet phrase, shared sacrifice.
Taxpayers are asked to foot the bill for K-12 education because of the shared benefit of education. There is a shared benefit in ensuring a college education, too.
We can either choose, as a state, to remain behind the times and behind the curve nationally. Or we can take action and be bold.
Let’s be bold.