In May, the Michigan House Appropriations Committee advanced a bill that would radically change the way the state funds higher education. It would freeze overall state support for Michigan’s universities at this year’s level next year–while also redistributing it so every school gets the same amount per student.
That would mean several million dollars more for the U-M’s Dearborn and Flint campuses, as well as schools like Grand Valley State and Oakland University. But the plan, put forward by house Republicans, would cost the Ann Arbor campus almost $40 million–a 12 percent cut from this year’s $323 million.
“This idea comes around about every five to ten years,” says house Democratic leader Donna Lasinski. “And it is demonstrated to be an irresponsible idea for the future of the state of Michigan to systematically underfund our universities that contribute to research and teaching.” According to the University Record, it would make the U-M and MSU the worst-funded schools in the Big Ten.
“The research that is done at our major universities drives healing,” says Lasinski, who represents western and northern Washtenaw County. “It drives economic innovation. It drives a lot of growth in our state. And so to change to a funding formula that systematically underfunds and defunds the economic engines of our research universities is just foolhardy.”
Lasinski suspects the bill reflects its sponsors’ “fears of universities, a general disdain often expressed towards institutions of higher learning.” She calls such thinking “absurd. Our county has weathered a number of economic recessions differently than other counties in the state because we have a research institution that is less vulnerable to the ups and downs of the economy.”
As Lasinski notes, this is not the first time redistribution has been discussed–but it is the first time it’s passed the appropriations committee. She says that “gives a level of validity to this idea. There is no validity to this idea. It is harmful. It moves our state backwards.”
If House Republicans stick together, they have the votes to pass the proposal. But it would also have to pass the state Senate–and the Senate appropriations committee is working on a bill that would freeze overall funding but continue to give more support to research universities.
Both bills are at odds with governor Gretchen Whitmer, who wants to raise total funding without changing the distribution formula and could veto whatever plan the legislature approves.