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Snyder backs 6.1% hike in aid for Michigan universities

Gov. Rick Snyder

Gov. Rick Snyder

Gov. Rick Snyder will call for a 6.1 percent boost in state support for universities, the largest percentage increase of taxpayer support for higher education since 2001, The Detroit News has learned.

Snyder will ask lawmakers to increase state university spending $80.3 million and give Michigan’s 28 community colleges a 3 percent hike in funding of $8.9 million more in the 2015 fiscal year, the governor’s office told The News exclusively.

The proposal, coupled with smaller increases in 2012 and 2013, represents the biggest increase in higher education funding the Republican governor has pursued since slashing state support for universities by 15 percent or nearly $150 million in 2011, his first year in office.

To qualify for the additional funding, universities would have to contain tuition increases to no more than 3.2 percent and meet certain performance criteria, Snyder spokeswoman Sara Wurfel said.

“We had to go through a period of some difficulties,” Snyder strategy director Bill Rustem told The News. “We’re now in a position to begin to really invest in the things he (Snyder) cares about over the long term. … It’s the biggest increase in higher ed in 14 years on a percentage basis — and that’s significant.”

The $1.33 billion in state support Michigan’s 15 public universities are receiving this fiscal year is 19 percent, or $315.6 million, less than they received a decade ago, according to the nonpartisan Senate Fiscal Agency.

“We’re still behind the eight ball,” said Mike Boulus, executive director for the Presidents Council, State Universities of Michigan. “(But) this is a giant step in the right direction.”

The boost for universities and community colleges comes on top of the $322 million increase — roughly a 3 percent hike — Snyder plans to recommend lawmakers approve for public education, most of which will go toward school employee pensions, state budget director John Nixon said.

“Education was a real priority in this budget,” Nixon said in an interview. “Education has taken dramatic cuts over the past many years, and it was a priority of the governor to restore those cuts in new spending.”

The $80.3 million proposed raise for higher education includes a $3.4 million increase for Michigan State University’s Agricultural Extension program, leaving about $76.9 million for the universities to split up, Rustem said.

In addition to the tuition cap, universities would have to meet a certain number of performance criteria based on six-year graduation rates, total degree completion and percentage of administrative costs to overall operating budgets to qualify for additional funding, Wurfel said.

“We feel like that’s reasonable and doable but still helping address that affordability piece of the equation,” she said of the proposed tuition cap.

Community colleges also would have meet certain criteria in enrollment, administrative costs, degree and certificate completion and local job-training initiatives to be eligible for more state money, Rustem said.

Nixon said he believes the Republican-controlled Legislature will support an increase for higher education funding this year, but university presidents still will have to answer questions from lawmakers about what they’re doing to contain costs.

“I think they’re going to have to go over there and explain how it’s going to be spent,” Nixon said.

The governor wants lawmakers to add the number of low-income to medium-income students at a college receiving federal Pell Grants to the performance-based funding equation for universities, Rustem said.

Wayne State University, which has a higher percentage of lower-income students than other state schools, would benefit from the funding formula giving additional weight to schools with a higher number of students receiving Pell grants, he said.

Snyder has proposed the Pell Grant requirement the past two years, but lawmakers have stripped it from the performance funding criteria, Rustem said.

The state’s universities support the governor’s efforts to give more weight to schools that serve lower-income populations, Boulus said.

“Those are the students we need to target and this gives an incentive to target,” Boulus said. “It’s an acknowledgment that we need to do a better job recruiting, attracting and retaining our low- to middle-income students.”

Snyder’s proposed 2015 higher education budget continues his past practice of dipping into the School Aid Fund for $200 million of the $1.4 billion in taxpayer funding, the rest of which comes from the state’s General Fund.

School groups and Democrats have complained about the practice, saying it violates the spirit of the state’s K-12 school funding law, even though the constitution says school aid dollars can be used for higher education. (The Detroit News)

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