The University Record, January 16, 1996

Legislators unveil recommendations to make universities more accountable to citizens and to remedy funding inequities

By Jane R. Elgass

Three members of the Legislature were on campus last Wednesday to unveil a report that calls for fairer funding for the state's 15 public universities and affordable higher education for all Michigan residents.

The report's recommendations are based on testimony by university officials, students, parents and business representatives at a series of statewide public hearings.

Rep. Beverly Hammerstrom, R-Temperance, noted that the report "sets the stage for improving our universities. An enhanced partnership between the Legislature and our public universities will yield more educational opportunities and create less of a financial burden for students and their families."

Hammerstrom, who is chair of the House Republican Policy Committee, was joined at the media briefing by Reps. John Llewellyn, R-Fremont, and Jim McBryde, R-Mt. Pleasant, co-chairs of the House Republican Task Force on Higher Education, which drafted the report.

Noting that the report was in the works for three years, McBryde said it was difficult to write "because of the state's unique autonomous system of [university] boards."

That autonomy should continue, McBryde said, because the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. He added, however, that some middle ground must be reached in which the universities are more accountable to the Legislature and citizenry.

He and Llewellyn hope to "continue the dialogue" begun by the report with the boards of the state's public universities "to increase the level of accountability."

Llewellyn noted that a major issue to address in those discussions will be equity in funding of the public universities, brought into the limelight last year when Gov. John Engler recommended that Michigan State, Western Michigan and Grand Valley State universities receive greater appropriations increases than the U-M.

Llewellyn explained that the current funding approach was created when the state was developing a statewide system of higher education institutions in the 1950s and 1960s. "The funding was institutionally specific," he said. "We now need to move from institution-based [funding] to individual student-based funding, to support Michigan residents who attend Michigan institutions," adding that this would be "a more efficient way to spend taxpayer dollars."

McBryde said that while "there is no justification for the huge inequities [in public university funding], the research universities ought to receive more state aid."

He envisions a three-tiered approach: one level of funding for the state's three research universities, another for its two doctoral institutions and a third for the 10 undergraduate schools.

Llewellyn noted that the U-M does differ from the other 14 schools because of a different role and mission that gives it "a broader, even international, clientele," and that it "perhaps has a greater impact on technological and cultural changes across the world," adding that the University "must make its case clear."

While the task force report does not address the issue of in-state and out-ofstate students, Llewellyn and McBryde touched briefly on the topic.

Llewellyn said the University should have the autonomy to operate the way it wants to, adding that "funding of Michigan residents to attend Michigan universities," rather than funding the institutions, "would alleviate that discussion."

That approach, he explained "may eliminate the ability of people to criticize . . . `My kid is unable to attend because of too many out-of-state students.'"

McBryde said that "University officials should have begun a dialogue [with the Legislature] as soon as it was apparent" it couldn't meet the 70 percent residents/30 percent non-residents goal last year.

This is among the issues of accountability, he noted. "I represent two counties in mid-Michigan. A number of students would like to go to the U-M, but say they can't get in because of the out-of-state students. We need dialogue up front on this issue."

Another issue "we continually heard about," McBryde said, was "professors in the classroom. We want to urge the research universities not to give in to the temptation to chase research dollars in Washington, but to keep the star professors, the best and brightest in the field, in undergraduate classes."

The three legislators indicated that their report will not result in any specific legislation. Rather the hope is that the universities will work on the recommendations.

They noted that the report has been sent to members of the boards of all the public universities and that they hope the board members "will read it and take it seriously."

Task force recommendations

The report of the House Republican Task Force on Higher Education contains 10 recommendations. It urges universities to:

 

Work with the Legislature to develop a system of funding that is equitable to all public universities.

 

Hold the line or make only modest tuition increases, and keep other costs down, including room and board.

 

Consider privatization of services whenever practical and feasible.

 

Limit baccalaureate programs to the normally accepted credit-hour requirement associated with a four-year degree.

Other suggestions include:

 

Preserving the constitutionally authorized autonomy of public university governing boards.

 

Encouraging universities to provide students, staff, professors and researchers with up-to-date information technology.

 

Making job placement a priority as universities develop or refine curricula.

 

Developing incentives for universities that place an emphasis on the teaching-learning process. Professors, not graduate assistants, should teach first-year students whenever possible.

 

Urging universities to cultivate positive relationships with schools and community colleges, creating a seamless education system. Universities are encouraged to establish charter schools that offer specialized instruction.

 

Lowering high attrition rates through university strategies incorporating programs that bring students into the college setting at an earlier stage.

Cynthia Wilbanks, associate vice president for government relations, said that the University "is pleased to see the task force recognize the unique qualities of the University of Michigan."

"Furthermore, many of the recommendations are ones our campuses have already taken seriously, with specific programs to enhance undergraduate teaching and learning, a vast improvement in our information technology capabilities for students, faculty and staff; and studying the feasibility of privitization of services.

"We welcome the opportunity to work with the members of the Legislature to further their goals and ours."

"These proposals outline improvements to fortify the state's higher education system," said Jim McBryde, co-chair of the task force and vice chair of the House Appropriations Higher Education Subcommittee.

"Providing educational opportunities for residents goes a long way in bolstering the economy and empowering people. With these changes, our public universities can continue to serve us admirably as Michigan moves boldly toward the 21st century."

In addition to McBryde and co-chair John Llewellyn, other members of the task force are Jessie Dalman (Holland), Jan Dolan (Farmington Hills), Clyde LeTarte (Horton), Thomas Middleton (Ortonville), Glenn Oxender (Sturgis), Harold Voorhees (Wyoming) and Deborah Whyman (Canton Township).