The University Record, October 23, 2000

Allocation request focuses on undergrad, sustainability programs

By Mary Jo Frank
Office of the Vice President for Communications

Generous state support has allowed the U-M to hold tuition growth to below 3 percent for the last two years, a trend the University would like to continue, Provost Nancy Cantor told the Regents at their October meeting.

The University’s 2002 appropriation request calls for a basic increase of 6 percent—$21.4 million—plus $1 million to enhance teaching and research programs in environmental and economic sustainability and $3 million for residentially based initiatives for undergraduates. The Regents unanimously approved the total appropriation request increase of $25.4 million.

In his letter to the Department of Management and Budget, President Lee C. Bollinger wrote: “Our partnership with the state has permitted me to preside over four years in which tuition rates for the typical undergraduate have grown more slowly than in any four-year period in decades.” He hopes the U-M will continue to receive the kind of support from the state that allows it to restrain tuition increases and “still have sufficient resources to perform at the level that the people of the state expect of the University.” Cantor briefed the Regents on the U-M’s recent re-accreditation by the North Central Association, a process that emphasized advancing collaborative, integrative, and interdisciplinary research and teaching.

Four faculty and staff groups led by faculty members examined how collaborative activities are working in teaching, research and graduate study, Cantor explained.

The accreditation team—a team of outside scholars and administrators—praised the U-M for its interdisciplinary focus while acknowledging how difficult it is to create and foster this kind of environment.

“The accreditation report confirms our view that it is our scale, our connectivity and our flexibility that enable us to maintain and enhance our leadership position, both in general and in many specific areas,” the provost added.

Citing the Life Sciences Initiative as an example of the University’s ability to make rapid progress, she noted that recent Board actions will lead to three new buildings associated with the Initiative; the new Life Sciences, Values and Society Program; the development of four new interdisciplinary courses at the introductory level; and a new Health/Life Sciences Scholars Program.

The U-M would like to expand in two other areas: residentially-based initiatives in the undergraduate curriculum, and programs on environmental and economic sustainability.

The University has several very successful learning communities/living-learning programs already in place, Bollinger noted in his letter to the state. The $3 million would support expansion of existing learning communities and the creation of new ones.

Cantor and Bollinger propose to develop more areas within residence halls to join existing living-learning communities. These living-learning communities would organize clusters of students around particular academic or social interests such as health sciences, public affairs or the arts. Faculty and graduate students would be assigned office space within the housing units to mentor residents and organize discussion groups. Important goals would be to increase intergenerational learning among undergraduates, faculty, researchers and graduate students, and to provide a model for interdisciplinary dialogue.

“Our task is to provide the context for learning that best supports a free-ranging exploration of all the intellectual and social diversity and richness of this great University,” Cantor said.

The University’s environmental sustainability initiative grew from discussions of the U-M’s advisory council on the environment, chaired by Business School Dean B. Joseph White. The new funds would be used for curricular initiatives and for grants for research proposals that approach the subject in an interdisciplinary way, Cantor explained.

“One of the most powerful motivations for inquiry into sustainability is to assure that the remarkable prosperity currently being enjoyed in our country and our region is sustainable—that it can be maintained for future generations and extended to parts of the world that have not been as fortunate,” Cantor noted. “Many businesses are studying sustainability, and there is growing public and private sector support for research in this area.”

Currently, there are hundreds of faculty on campus whose work has implications for sustainability. It is important to get them to work together across the disciplines and schools on problems of common interest, she added.

Putting the University’s appropriation request in perspective, Cantor said personal income growth is a reasonable indicator of the state’s capacity to support and to benefit from higher education. For the past several decades, the General Fund has grown at about the same rate as personal income in the state, she noted.

“Using the most recent forecast for the state’s economy, we expect personal income to grow at about 4.8 percent during FY 2001. If we were to practice the kind of tuition restraint that we have practiced for the past two years, General Fund growth of 4.8 percent would require growth in the state appropriation in excess of 7.2 percent, which is somewhat more than the increase that we ask for here,” Cantor added.

With average tuition increases of 3.3 percent over the past four years, the University has responded to concerns about higher education costs, said Bollinger, who noted that tuition for state residents is 25 percent of what it would cost for a comparable education at top private schools.