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President Simon discusses campus issues in State of the University Address

February 9, 2016
Michigan State University President Lou Anna K. Simon addresses the audience during the annual MSU Awards Convocation on Feb. 9, 2016 at Wharton Center.
Michigan State University President Lou Anna K. Simon addresses the audience during the annual MSU Awards Convocation on Feb. 9, 2016 at Wharton Center. —
Photo by Kelly vanFrankenhuyzen | and Kelly vanFrankenhuyzen The State News

On Tuesday night, President Lou Anna K. Simon discussed campus issues during her first live stream conversational State of the University Address. 

Here are five highlights from her speech.

1. Financial Aid 

After tuition was raised for the sixth consecutive year in June 2015, student debt and rising tuition have captured the attention of MSU students. 

“Over this period of time when there’s been the most budget stress, we've increased our own financial aid much more than tuition to try to provide that cushion," Simon said.

Simon said the state has eliminated a number of financial programs for Michigan residents.

She also said about 46 percent of MSU students graduate with educational debt and of that amount the average debt students have is $26,000.

Despite MSU having higher tuition, Simon said both statistics are well below the state and national average. 

“That really is a function of socioeconomic class, effectively using federal programs and augmenting them with our own institutional resources through this period of time,” Simon said. 

Simon said the Empower Extraordinary capital campaign is essential for the relief of student debt.

“We can use more donor dollars to help students reduce their debt,” Simon said. 

Simon said on-campus living reflects well with tuition because students are able to get more meals and not pay as much for athletic tickets.

2. Flint

Despite being miles away, MSU has made its mark to help with Flint’s water crisis. 

Simon reflected on MSU's involvement in Flint prior to her State of the University Address during an award convocation for faculty members.  

"All of us by now know Dr. Mona...she's been called by many, a hero." Simon said.

She said MSU had a influence in bettering health in Flint well before the national spotlight on the issue. MSU held about 40 community meetings when they decided to expand the College of Human Medicine.

"We were addressing their priorities," Simon said.

Simon said the extension of MSU goes all across the state.

"The College of Human Medicine has been in Flint for over 40 years but we want to make sure that we're relevant for the communities we're in," Simon said.

Simon said MSU will continue to enhance the community to the extent of what they want as far as support.

"We're going to be there before and we'll be there after," Simon said.

3. IM Facilities

Students have expressed dissatisfaction with the current state of the IM Facilities, particularly the lack of funding toward revitalizing facilities that a large population of students use. 

"It's not just the IM building as people would think about in the old days," Simon said. "It's really the campus in its engagement with health and fitness."

Simon said the Healthy Campus Initiative committee will begin to meet more frequently to better decide what the $35 million in funding will go to specifically.

"Not simply paint the IM building or build a new one," Simon said. "But the broad sense is of health and fitness," Simon said.

Simon said that other projects of athletic capital such as the Hall of History does not have access to university tuition dollars.

Simon said the neighborhoods and other spots on campus offer exercise classes and already have weight rooms.

"We need to be able to get more and more students actively engaged," Simon said. "The campus is a great place to just walk around and get exercise."

Simon said the plan is to transform the student experience of health on campus.

"This is an extension of a healthy lifestyle," Simon said. 

4. Higher Education Funding

Recently, Michigan's support for public higher education earned an F-grade in a report on state funding.

Simon said she worries about the lack of state funding and investment in a successful research institution like MSU.

"I think it's great that higher education is recognized in this budget," Simon said. "This is the time to support higher education."

Gov. Rick Snyder announced a plan to increase higher education funding by 4 percent statewide.

"Michigan State was really significantly underfunded per student relative to the other research universities," Simon said. "And that simply has gotten worse not better." 

Simon said the issue still stands that MSU is not being given enough funding from the state government.

She said agriculture is consistently a supporter of the state and research funding does not reflect that.

"You can be hopeful but maybe not optimistic that some effort will be made to recognize that important role," Simon said.

5. Minority Faculty Recruitment

Simon recently spoke at dialogues with campus groups such as Liberate MSU about the lack of a diverse faculty and student population.

"We try to insist as much as possible that we have a diverse pool," Simon said.

Simon said under Proposal 2, a state mandate, MSU aggressively pursues diversity.

"A diverse faculty, people with diverse views are really important for the university, for our students," Simon said.

Simon said the Provost's office actively recruits and retain faculty.

"People have made pretty outstanding offers for our faculty because they're so good," she said.


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