Higher education budget rewards some, punishes others

 

Higher education will get a 3 percent increase over last year, but there are plenty of strings attached—some of them reflecting legislators’ bias on social issues and a dislike for university autonomy.

Universities again will see a boost if they keep their tuition increases and fees below 4 percent. This singles out Michigan State University, which requires students have health insurance; the budget language classifies this practice as a tuition increase. Earlier this year, Republicans blasted MSU for the insurance requirement. Now, they’ve channeled their anger by calling this an attempt to “help universities subscribe to priorities.” But whose priorities? So much for local control. 

Performance-based funding is available to universities meeting certain metrics such as graduation rates and the types of degrees awarded. Legislators made sure this incentive impacted the University of Michigan. Budget language requires universities doing embryonic stem cell research—like U of M—to file reports with the state. This has been a requirement, but some Republican legislators opposed to stem cell research were dissatisfied with the quality of the reports U of M submitted this year. Personal legislative agendas won out.

The budget plan also includes language that universities report on their efforts to accommodate the religious beliefs of students in accredited counseling programs. This again stems from an incident where a student in such a program was removed because she refused to counsel a patient with values different from hers.

And finally, performance-based funding is tied to language requiring universities to prohibit students from protesting local businesses during their internship. This is in response to some U of M students protesting a Detroit business. So much for freedom of speech.

It’s not quite clear how these budget stipulations improve education.

The 28 community colleges in the state will receive $294.1 million—a 3.6 percent increase over last year—with $197.6 million coming out of the School Aid fund. This still doesn’t make up for last year’s 15 percent reduction in state aid for higher education. And again, legislators are taking money supposedly reserved for K-12 and using it for another purpose at a time when K-12 school deficits are growing.

Rep. Joan Bauer (D-Lansing) criticized the entire higher education budget by saying, “We should be creating a budget that makes a college education affordable. Instead, Republicans are using the budget as a vehicle to push their ideological agenda.”