MSU introduces site advocating for higher ed in political arena

MSU is taking a stand against rising tuition costs and other challenges facing the university by launching a website designed to allow Spartan proponents to convey the message that policymakers should support higher education.

The website, called Spartan Advocate, aims to decrease tuition costs and make degrees more accessible and affordable.

The need for Spartan Advocate spawned from a desire to educate new legislators and alumni on the importance of higher education in research and economic growth, said Monique Field, assistant vice president of strategic initiative in the office of governmental affairs at MSU.

As Field visited with alumni clubs, she saw that not everyone understands how MSU is spending state dollars and how the cuts to those funds have impacted tuition.

“As state appropriations went down, the difference was made up (in tuition) by parents who send their kids to school,” Field said. “We needed to get the story out and educate our alumni and legislators. We’re not just randomly increasing tuition.”

Field said the site is mainly targeting alumni because they are the best group to demonstrate to legislators how degrees can make both an individual more successful and greatly benefit the overall economy.

She encouraged all Spartans and supporters to become involved.

The site targets alumni by providing information, facts and talking points arming supporters with the tools they need to impact legislature and attempt to make higher education funding a priority once more.

The Board of Trustees have direct control over tuition raises, although they have deferred blame to smaller state appropriations.

“In the past 10 years, total annual cost per student (consisting of per-student appropriation plus per-student tuition) has only increased 1.8 percent,” MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon said in a statement. “But the state’s declining commitment to higher education funding has resulted in a major cost shift to students and families through higher tuition.”

“Now that the state is much more financially stable, it is time to reinvest in items that generate long-term return on investment,” Simon said. “Michigan’s recovery can only be sustained through such investments.

“Simply put, higher education funding must be priority.”

After the initial Spartan Advocate launch, many alumni sent emails of support to Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder after he recommended an increase in higher education funding this year, encouraging policymakers to make higher education a priority.

This type of political involvement is one of many advocacy activities Spartan Advocate hopes to facilitate.

Field mentioned that by supporting higher education, policymakers would be stimulating economic growth by creating talent and retaining that talent, as well as allowing important research to continue.

University Research Corridor Executive Director Jeff Mason said advocating for appropriations will be pivotal in sustaining research.

MSU, University of Michigan and Wayne State University, who are part of the University Research Corridor, account for about 97 percent of all research done in Michigan and contributed nearly $16.6 billion to the state’s economy in the 2012 fiscal year.

“Advocacy activities help to highlight the role that universities play in research and the significance of how they contribute to economic prosperity in Michigan,” Mason said.

As far as talent retention and economic growth, the Business Leaders for Michigan’s President and CEO Doug Rothwell supports the advocacy.

Rothwell said because universities are a prime resource for talent and talent-driven innovation, they are the concern of businesses.

“In the future, Michigan faces a challenge in producing enough college and university educated talent,” Rothwell said. “Michigan’s workforce is aging, and there is significant need to replace those workers and fill jobs that require more education than in the past.

“Cost is increasingly becoming a barrier for students to get the education they need.”

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