By Arielle Hines
It’s no secret higher education funding has taken a hit at the state level over the last three decades. Faced with tighter budgets than at any point in the recent past thanks to the Great Recession, most states, including Michigan, have exacerbated that trend in recent years via drastic cutbacks in higher education funding.
Factor in bloated administrative budgets at many public colleges and universities and there is a recipe for what some economists call a looming economic disaster. Tuition rates continue to climb as funding drops off, and student loan debt has risen with it. Total student loan debt, which now stands at $1.2 trillion, has surpassed credit card debt in the United States thanks in large part to state cutbacks.
Considering the high stakes for students, it’s no wonder education funding figures to play a big role in the Nov. 4 midterm elections. So, where do state-level candidates for office stand on funding higher education? Find out below.
The Governor’s Race
Gov. Rick Snyder, Republican:
Snyder came under fire in 2011 shortly after coming into office when he signed his first state budget, which reduced funding for higher education by 15 percent. Fellow Republicans and fiscal conservatives praised the move as a tough but necessary way to bring an out-of-control budget under control, but Democrats and higher education advocates slammed the governor for cutting education funding while also drastically cutting tax rates for corporations.
Since then, Snyder has slowly restored some higher ed funding. He signed an education budget in June that included a 6-percent bump in state appropriations, provided universities do not increase tuition more than 3.2 percent. He said he plans on continuing to restore higher education funding into his second term if universities keep tuition increases low.
Mark Schauer, Democratic candidate for governor:
While short on specifics, Schauer’s education plan calls for restoring recent cuts in higher education funding in order to train Michigan’s future workers in a competitive economic climate.
However, Schauer wants to stop using the School Aid Fund for higher education and only use it for preschools and K-12 education. The School Aid Fund was established in 1963 to assist school districts and public colleges and universities with funding. More than $400 million will come out of the School Aid Fund this fiscal year to assist Michigan’s 15 public colleges and universities.
As a state senator, Schauer voted yes for a bill that increased tuition assistance for students in high poverty areas in 2008. He also voted yes for the Community College and Education Budget in 2007, which increased the general fund for community college operations by 2.5 percent.
Other state offices
State Rep. Kevin Cotter, Republican, 99th District
Cotter, a CMU alum and the vice chair of the House Subcommittee on Higher Education, has largely supported Snyder’s education budgets, praising the governor for attempting to limit high tuition increases by holding out on state appropriations if they jump above 3.2 percent.
“Restoring affordable higher education is a priority, Cotter told Central Michigan Life earlier this year. “Part of that is making sure universities keep their tuition rates low. CMU, for instance, has done very well when it comes to keeping rates low.”
Bryan Mielke, Democratic nominee for state representative, 99th District
Mielke, a CMU alum challenging Cotter for the historically Republican seat, said in a prepared statement that the “legislature should make higher education funding a bigger priority, which will lead to fewer tuition increases for our students.” He has said the problem with Michigan education, from higher education down, is a lack of funding.
State Sen. Judy Emmons, Republican, 33rd District
Emmons has mostly voted in line with her party on higher education funding, voting for the 2011 budget that slashed funding by 15 percent but voting yes on subsequent budgets that raised higher education funding.
Fred Sprague, Democratic nominee for state Senate, 33rd District
Sprague, a CMU alum and a major underdog in a heavily conservative district, says on his website that college affordability should be a top priority for statewide officials, though he has been short on specifics.