WSW: Michigan Trails Other States in Higher Education Spending

May 6, 2014

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Credit WMUK


A new report finds spending on higher education in most states hasn't caught up to pre-recession levels. 

The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities finds that the cuts to Michigan colleges and universities are deeper than 37 other states. The Michigan League for Public Policy helped release the report. The league's Policy Director Karen Holcomb-Merrill told WMUK's Gordon Evans that Michigan doesn't fare well compared to other states in higher education spending. 

That has led to increases in tuition, and Holcomb-Merrill says Michigan is one of only six states in the nation where state government is only paying about a third of the cost of higher education. She says that means many students can't go to college, and many who do are taking on greater debt from student loans. 

Most states cut funding for higher education after the recession in 2008. Holcomb-Merrill says Michigan was probably hit harder by job losses. But she says the state also made a series of policy decisions, including a change to Michigan's tax system in 2011. Holcomb-Merrill says that left less money for many programs, including colleges and universities. 

This year's proposed state budget includes an increase for higher education. Holcomb-Merrill says that's a good start. But she says it will take some significant reinvestment to make up for years of cuts. 

"Are we gong to have a well-educated workforce here in Michigan, which is essential to growing our economy?"

Holcomb-Merrill says funding for higher education is critical to the state's economy. She asks "Are we gong to have a well-educated workforce here in Michigan, which is essential to growing our economy?" Holcomb-Merrill says a well-educated workforce is important for attracting businesses to Michigan. 

Michigan needs more revenue, says Holcomb-Merrill. She says the state could reform its tax system. That could include a more progressive tax system and a sales tax on services. Some lawmakers have suggested tax relief with the current state budget surplus. Holcomb-Merrill says cutting or rolling back taxes right now would be short-sighted. 

Much of the debate in Lansing right now centers on funding for road repair. But Holcomb-Merrill says "good roads doesn't mean we shouldn't have good colleges and universities." She says states like Massachusetts and Minnesota have benefited from an investment in college education. Holcomb-Merrill says those states are thriving because of a highly educated workforce. She says Michigan needs to figure out how to reinvest.