Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Legislators offer solutions to tuition hike criticisms

August 8, 2001

It’s been more than two weeks since Lt. Gov. Dick Posthumus sent a questioning letter about tuition increases to university presidents around the state.

In response, many of the presidents have called or written with arguments for their increases.

“Everyone has a different answer,” Posthumus said. “The problem is that this is a long-standing issue. Most of these presidents are good administrators, but they need to contain costs.”

Tuition increases ranging from the University of Michigan’s 6.5 percent increase to Michigan Technological University’s 18.8 percent hike have left students and parents grappling with the news.

In a 5-2 vote July 9, MSU’s Board of Trustees raised tuition 8.9 percent, the largest hike since the 1993-94 school year.

School officials all over have blamed the increases on high utility and health care costs, along with a lower-than-average 1.5 percent appropriation from the state.

But Posthumus said he’d like to see an incentive program put into place, one that would eliminate the blame game between the state and its public universities.

“I would argue we ought to go to the next step and provide a base-level appropriation, plus a bonus appropriation for schools who keep tuition down to inflation,” he said Saturday. “(The Tuition Tax Credit) clearly hasn’t had an impact. Some schools have really worked at keeping tuition down, like MSU, and right now, we don’t have any incentive for them.”

MSU President M. Peter McPherson said he thinks an incentive for schools that keep tuition down is necessary, but only if the schools keep costs low for a stretch of years.

“I’d want to think carefully about how that incentive could be done,” he said. “We’ve been able to maintain low tuition for a number of years. Schools could gain by tuition going down one year and using it to make up for previous years.”

A repeal of the state’s Tuition Tax Credit, a program created to act as incentive to keep tuition increases low, could bring MSU’s increase down to 6 percent.

While the state Senate is expected to provide enough votes for the tax credit repeal, expectations of the state House are not as promising.

“Personally, I am open to repealing the tax credit,” state Rep. Gretchen Whitmer said. “I’m hoping some of the advocates for repeal start to educate our colleagues in the House.

“We could even look at repealing it for just this next year, then bringing it back when the budget is more flush.”

Whitmer, a House higher education appropriations committee member, said she had argued for an incentive for schools like MSU.

“They warned us that if the state wasn’t able to increase the appropriation, then tuition increases would be necessary,” the East Lansing Democrat said. “I really argued on MSU’s behalf.”

But U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers said he was caught off-guard by the level of tuition increases found among the state’s universities.

“To blame it on the state is wrong,” the Brighton Republican said. “Everyone else in the world has to tighten their belt. I hope they have looked long and hard to justify a 9 percent increase or an 18 percent increase.

“I think you can provide a quality education without that kind of increase.”

Rogers sponsored the bill that created the Michigan Education Savings Program, which allows parents and others to put away money for higher education expenses without paying any state taxes and deferring federal taxes.

“I expect my kids to help with costs, to get jobs, but I want them to be able to go to school,” he said. “I don’t want to have all that planning ruined by an increase.”

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