Public universities in Michigan have been used to cuts in state funding, but a surplus in the state budget could mean a turn for the better.
This week, State Budget Director John Nixon will meet with fiscal agencies and the state treasury to discuss how the $400 million to $450 million left over from this year’s budget will be allocated.
State officials have neither confirmed nor denied if any of the money will be given to higher education, but MSU would welcome more state money. Along with other public universities, MSU continually has been a victim of state cutbacks. Any extra funding would be a chance for the state to reinvest in its universities.
Gov. Rick Snyder continually has encouraged innovation and technology in every level of the state. His belief in Michigan’s need for innovation is so crucial that he mentioned it in his inaugural speech, referring to it as a step toward a reinvented economy.
For that new economy to be a possibility, public universities need proper funding to ensure that innovation is continuing to happen at the university level.
Fields of study that include innovation and technology — such as engineering, information technology and computer science — require state funds to provide students with the best tools and means of learning.
Advancements in these fields happen quickly, and more funding for public universities could aid Michigan in pioneering the latest technologies. Everyone at MSU, from university officials and professors to students, would benefit from the extra funding, and local employers also would be able to take advantage of more educated graduates.
Snyder must provide institutions of higher learning the means to achieve what he is asking of them, and the unused budget money would be an excellent way to do so.
There have been issues with public funding for MSU in the past, though.
In the 2009-10 school year, MSU used money granted to them from a federal stimulus to refund a portion of students’ tuition. This led to a conflict with state officials over how high MSU could raise tuition for the next year.
The state calculated the allowed tuition increase by including the stimulus refund to students, and MSU counted the tuition increase without it. This upset some state officials, and it potentially could be a factor in granting the money to public universities.
If the state decides to grant universities excess budget money, hopefully an issue with tuition increases wouldn’t be the result again.
Eric Scorsone, an MSU Extension expert in state finances, said government officials might wish to keep some of the $400 million to $450 million in the bank as a safety net. This move would be smart given the current economic state of Michigan.
Whatever the money is used for, the state having excess budget money to allocate instead of being forced to implement cuts shows positive developments for the state and for universities.
However, choosing to fund universities with the extra budget money would be a sign that the state is prioritizing the impact of higher education on the future of this state — a welcome change of pace.