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Coleman to Senate committee: Consider long-term consequences of cuts

The University's 187-year partnership with the state must focus on maintaining the quality of the institution as it was envisioned, President Mary Sue Coleman told members of the Senate Subcommittee on Higher Education Appropriations Feb. 27.
President Mary Sue Coleman and U-M-Flint Chancellor Juan Mestas tell a Senate subcommittee the effects state budget cuts will have on the University. (Photos by Mel Serow, U-M-Flint)

Coleman, U-M-Flint Chancellor Juan Mestas and the presidents of three other public universities told lawmakers the state's short-term budget solutions—which have reduced funding for higher education by 14 percent in 18 months—cannot become long-range strategies without seriously compromising the quality of education and Michigan's economy.

Coleman said the Ann Arbor campus expects additional spending cuts of at least $20 million for 2005. By the end of the upcoming year, the University will have reduced spending by $57 million, she said.

"These are real dollars, and their loss means the reduction of jobs, courses and services at the University," Coleman said. "In response to the most recent reductions, we have cut our budget significantly."

"The state budget proposal, on one hand, cuts the total appropriation from 2002 by about $43 million dollars and requires a limitation on tuition increases," Coleman said. "The alternative to that proposal, though, is $62 million dollars eliminated from the base appropriation over three fiscal years." Mestas said U-M-Flint faces a cut of $800,000.

"In the matter of a very few years, we could lose the magnificent asset that our partnership has taken 187 years to build," Coleman said. That asset, Coleman said, is one of the nation's top educational and research institutions.

"In fiscal year 2003, the University of Michigan won $528 million in federal funding for research expenditures on projects designed by our faculty. That is $200 million more than our annual state appropriation," Coleman said. Last week, the University was ranked No. 8 in the country for research patents. She said the success in research and teaching is attributed to quality faculty and staff.

"Because we must compete nationally in terms of our research, we seek and employ the best faculty members we can identify. In turn, other universities are continually trying to recruit our top faculty members, so we must not only hire the best, we must be sure to make this a university that will retain its best faculty," she said.

The state provided 70 percent of the funding for instruction on the Ann Arbor campus 30 years ago, Coleman said. That number is less than 30 percent today. Mestas said when he came to U-M-Flint five years ago the state was providing 50 percent of the funding. Now it is 40 percent.

"The burden of the cost of education has dramatically shifted from state support to student tuition," Coleman said.
"Our students and their families are balancing not only the cost of their education but also the value for those dollars."
—President Mary Sue Coleman

At the same time, she said, the University covers the full demonstrated financial need of all in-state undergraduate students. It provided $96 million in financial aid to 11,000 Michigan resident students last year, with an average award of $8,700. Coleman said the University has more than doubled its institutional funding for financial aid in 12 years, and has matched or exceeded tuition increases with additional financial aid.

"We want to make sure that no qualified student is denied a Michigan education due to financial barriers, and our continued emphasis on financial aid will be part of the solution," she said.

Coleman told lawmakers the tuition pledge is laudable in its goal to make education affordable for Michigan residents, but she said a long-range strategy for supporting the state's universities is necessary to maintain excellence.

"Our students and their families are balancing not only the cost of their education but also the value for those dollars. And I could not agree more," Coleman said.

"Without full, steady, purposeful state support for our colleges and universities, parents and students may face some day, in the not-too-distant future, a lose-lose choice between unaffordable excellence and affordable mediocrity," Mestas said. "None of us wants to get there. That is why we need to talk about the future of higher education in a context broader than budget cuts."

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