State budget cuts challenge colleges

When ranking states by the amount of funding for higher education, Michigan ranks 49 out of 50. In other words, 48 states give more money to colleges and universities than Michigan does.

State budget cuts are one of the biggest challenges public universities face today. Last year EMU experienced its biggest budget cut.

“EMU had the biggest cut this year with $15 million, but we also have the lowest rate of tuition growth in the state,” said Leigh Greden, executive director of government and community relations at Eastern Michigan University.

In order to meet the budget, tuition rose, jobs were eliminated, pay was frozen and projects were delayed.

Along with the many cuts the university had to make, several dozen jobs were also cut. Some administration and support staff that are non-faculty and full-time were laid off first and the communications department was second, losing a few media relation employees.

“The faculty is our number one priority, then demand for courses,” Greden said. “Once we have more courses, then we can hire more faculty.”

Overall, about 60 people were laid off this year. Some workers were placed in different departments and others retired.
Some of the funding EMU receives goes toward renovating the older buildings on campus. In 2008, EMU received no money for any of the renovation projects, but in 2010 EMU received $31 million to renovate Pray-Harrold, one of the main classroom buildings on campus.

This year $1 billion was appropriated by the state to be divided among all public universities.

According to Greden, EMU is lobbying for $40 million to renovate Strong Hall.

“That bill is currently sitting in the Michigan Legislature waiting to get passed,” Greden said.

Community college accreditation is also another major concern to public universities in Michigan. If passed, House Bill 4496
would allow community colleges to offer four-year degrees in programs such as culinary arts, nursing, biology, energy production and technology.

Greden said this would be more costly to community colleges.

“If community colleges offered four-year degrees, it would cost more for them to be accredited because they would have to hire highly trained faculty and offer more courses which cost a lot of money,” Greden said.

Students who transfer from a community college to a university do not count toward the university graduation rate. In order to be counted, a student must spend all four years at one university. This is troublesome, because the state bases a school’s funding partially on its graduation rate.

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