Wednesday, February 23, 2011

From the President's Desk: High Education, The Budget And Ferris

Here is a note from the desk of Ferris State University president David L. Eisler welcoming two new members to the Board of Trustees:
On Thursday Governor Rick Snyder proposed a budget that includes significant reductions in funding for higher education in Michigan. Governor Snyder’s proposal includes cuts to higher education funding that would equal 21.9 percent for Ferris State University and our students. These cuts would mean the loss of nearly $10.6 million to the University – or more than $780 for each student enrolled. The governor has also proposed a reserve fund of $83 million for universities that hold tuition increases to less than seven percent. If all state universities hold costs below this level – as Ferris State University has done since at least 2003 – the impact would be a 15 percent reduction in funding. That reduction would still be the largest in the University’s history at more than $7.3 million.

In a series of University-wide messages and budget forums I have pointed out that the trend in Michigan has been toward state disinvestment in higher education. This proposed budget accelerates that trend. There can be no doubt that the state faces extraordinarily difficult choices as it struggles to balance the budget; however, several things are very disappointing in this budget proposal. Without question higher education is being asked to bear a disproportionate share of this reduction. For example, even though it has been widely bemoaned that Michigan is one of the few states that already spends more on corrections than higher education, the governor’s budget has a slight increase for corrections in this proposal. There is no reduction for community colleges in this proposal. This budget also includes a significant reduction in business taxes. Perhaps most distressing is the level of acquiescence in media coverage and public reaction. News stories focus on other issues, such as the tax on pensions, cuts to revenue sharing and the four percent reduction to schools. Seemingly lost in these other concerns is the largest budget reduction in the history of Michigan public universities and the state continuing to erode a path to a college degree for all its citizens. Sadly, this trend is unlikely to be reversed any time soon.

There are other issues involved in the governor’s budget proposal. Tax credits for contributions to public universities are eliminated. Higher education and community college funding has been moved into the K-12 budget, effectively making it a K-20 budget. It remains to be seen just how this might impact state universities, but it seems clear that public universities are the lowest of these priorities. The current budget proposal does nothing to restore any of the financial aid funding cut from our students over the past two years. It does, however, increase funding to the Tuition Incentive Program, something we had to fight to restore last year. It is worth remembering that the Governor proposes a budget, but the legislature ultimate drafts and approves budget legislation for his signature. It remains to be seen if the legislature will adopt these proposals or look to move in different directions. Over the next few months I will be actively engaged with lawmakers in Lansing to help shape the final budget and to see if the negative impact on our institution and our students can be lessened.

It has been no secret that the state budget was facing a serious deficit. We have talked about this numerous times over the past two years, and with the assistance of our entire University community have prepared for this. The reality is that with the exception of some cuts that need to be finalized in Academic Affairs, we have already identified cuts of $7.3 million. It has been and remains my hope that we will not need this entire amount and be able to use it for important priorities in all of divisions. At this time I do not anticipate beginning another round of budget reductions.

Because there is much interest in this proposed budget, I will be holding a new budget forum to share information regarding this Thursday, Feb. 24 at 1 p.m. in the Rankin Center’s Centennial Dining Room. If your work schedule allows, please join me for a discussion about this far-reaching proposal and what it might mean for Ferris State University.
Check back for more items from the desk of the president here on the Ferris State University Blog.

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