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Commission seeks university-state compact

Higher education is extremely important to Michigan's progress economically, socially and culturally, says a report from a commission charged with reviewing the state's public universities. The final report of the University Investment Commission (UIC) says the state, in recognition of this contribution, should increase funding for the 15 public universities. In exchange, UIC says universities should assume greater accountability for spending and better demonstrate how they restrain costs.

The Presidents Council of State Universities of Michigan last spring called for an outside review of public higher education. Business and civic leaders from profit and not-for-profit organizations were asked to serve on the commission chaired by Paul Hillegonds, president of Detroit Renaissance and a former state lawmaker. The UIC final report was highlighted Nov. 14 at a press conference in Lansing.

The report says universities help build a strong and stable state economy, provide innovation and research that lead to the creation of more and better-paying jobs, and advance civic and cultural life. UIC cites a Michigan Economic Development Corporation report that says "the state's investment of $1.5 billion to higher education in 1999 produced a net economic impact of $39 billion, 12.6 percent of Michigan's gross state product." As part of the compact, UIC wants the universities to report more specifically about how they add value the state.

"Our future is at stake," the report says. "We see great opportunities and significant returns on investment if Michigan expands public resources for higher education."

One of the goals in the report is for more students, particularly those who are socio-economically disadvantaged, to be assisted in earning four-year or higher degrees. It says universities should collaborate more with community colleges and distance learning organizations and build relationships with K-12 schools to improve the chances of success for students. It also calls upon Governor-elect Jennifer Granholm to review ways to make higher education more affordable, including advocating for more federal aid to students.

The commission says universities need to do what they can to hold down tuition costs in order to make college affordable for all Michigan residents. At the same time, the report recognizes that achieving this goal is directly related to the impact of appropriations levels on tuition.

"Lower appropriations explicitly lead to higher tuition costs," the report states. "Higher appropriations and university cost containment restrain tuition increases, making higher education more affordable to Michigan families."

UIC also calls upon universities to report information that shows they are making progress toward achieving streamlined economies.

Provost Paul N. Courant says the University has done much to cut costs in the recent past, but its accomplishments are not widely known (see budget story above).

"There are 2,741 different units within our administration and all are doing small and not-so-small things to cut costs," Courant told the Board of Regents Nov. 14. "We always are looking for ways to cut expenses."

The UIC report recommends that the governor convene a statewide summit of university, political, business, labor and civic leaders to receive a State of Public Universities message. It also stresses the need for lawmakers, many of whom are new this year because of term limitations, to make state appropriations per student rise at least to the average level of those institutions in the Great Lakes and competing states. It further says policymakers should create a "regular, dependable funding stream" for capital needs. "New construction and renovation costs draw precious capital from learning and research," the UIC says.

"The report underscores the dependence of the state of Michigan and its public universities on one another," President Mary Sue Coleman says. "It also points out what each must contribute in order to live up to the promise of a higher education system that best serves all the citizens of this state.

"If this report can help educate policymakers about the vital role of our universities in the long-term economic health of the state, then it is a good day's work."

Related story: State operating appropriation request for FYO4 presented to regents>


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