Gaps in funding to drive up tuition
February 22, 2010 —
As state legislatures seek to finalize a budget, SVSU students can count on tuition to rise.
“It’s only a matter of how much,” SVSU President Eric Gilbertson said Friday, following a hearing on campus of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Higher Education.
Gilbertson joined leaders from institutions including Grand Valley State University and Oakland University in speaking before a panel of Michigan lawmakers.
In his oral testimony he described the relationship between SVSU’s tuition and state appropriations.
Charts included in the president’s written address show state funding shrinking to 28 percent from 62 percent during the past two decades.
Tuition has climbed to $6,900 from $4,913 in 2005, but SVSU remains the most affordable of the 15 public universities in the state next to Northern Michigan University at $7,454.
Gilbertson stressed the importance of the state making necessary compromises and finalizing a budget before the end of the fiscal year.
Last year, the state did not set a budget until October, requiring SVSU to set tuition based on a best prediction.
“You’re almost paralyzed,” Gilbertson said. “It makes it very difficult not just for universities, but community colleges, public schools, public health agencies and the cities and towns that get revenue sharing.”
SVSU over-budgeted for tuition this year but covered the retracted Michigan Promise Scholarship instead of issuing students a refund.
With the state budget in limbo, Gilbertson referenced a quote from Harvard economist John Kenneth Galbraith: “Politics consists of choices between the disastrous and the unpalatable.”
“The unpalatable choice is to raise taxes,” Gilbertson said. “At some point, somebody has to face up to the challenge of increasing tax revenues.”
Estimates from Lansing, he said, project roughly 20 percent cuts to all state institutions and services otherwise.
Successful measures to keep tuition and fees as low as possible as specified in the written address include “suppression of expenditures such as energy costs, supplies, travel, and other expenses.”
Keeping a lean class schedule also plays a role, Gilbertson said.
Because students foot the bill for empty classroom seats, the University tries to avoid offering classes that won’t fill up. Savings on tuition come at the cost of fewer opportunities for some students to select the schedules they prefer or need.
Before the budget is set, lawmakers have difficult decisions to make.
“Short-term considerations are hellishly difficult to deal with,” Gilbertson said, “and we have to keep arguing for the long-term investments in higher education.”
SVSU students are part of that argument. The Student Association plans on busing students to Lansing on March 25 to rally for higher education and present lawmakers with a written declaration.
Are legislators hearing the student voice? Gilbertson’s answer is a “yes” with a “but.”
“Right now one of the loudest voices is ‘Don’t raise taxes,’” he said. “And if that’s the voice that’s heard, then get ready for some major cuts in state funding.”