News Story

Legislator Calls For Funding All College Students Equally

State university lobbyists say we’ve never done it that way; call for more money instead

An Oakland County lawmaker has introduced legislation to apportion state funding to public universities by the number of Michigan residents enrolled at each school. The change would replace a formula that uses a variety of metrics and results in wide financial disparities between schools.

State Rep. Ryan Berman, R-Commerce Township, calls the measure a commonsense reform that would produce greater equity and replace a system that rewards universities based on “how powerful their lobbyists are.”

“The way we fund universities today is fundamentally unfair," Berman said.

His legislation, HB 4526, was introduced earlier this month with 25 co-sponsors from both political parties.

It was not met with a warm reception from representatives of Michigan’s 15 public universities.

Dan Hurley, CEO of the Michigan Association of State Universities, said Berman’s proposal is “spectacularly self-defeating.”

“We have a very broad diversity of missions (among the various schools),” he said, “A one-size-fits-all approach is not good policy. It’s not done anywhere in the country.”

Hurley suggested that a discussion about equity among various universities would be worthwhile. But it should not begin by considering a redistribution of resources, he said. Rather, the focus should be on developing additional funding for schools disadvantaged by the current system, Hurley said.

State funding of Michigan universities ranges from a low of $3,079 per student at Oakland University to $8,905 per student at Wayne State University, according to a 2020 report from the state House and Senate fiscal agencies.

The University of Michigan, which receives $6,776 per student, would be a “big target” under Berman’s proposal because of its relatively large nonresident enrollment, Hurley said.

Berman said Michigan taxpayers should not be subsidizing the education of students who “come from out-of-state, get a degree and leave again.”

The cost of higher education has skyrocketed, he said, while some universities (like U-M) build multi-billion dollar endowments, refuse to offer rebates when they shut down operations over COVID and reap windfalls from federal COVID relief packages.

“At the same time, administrative costs have gone through the roof. We have heads of diversity departments (at some schools) who make triple the governor’s salary,” Berman said.

Berman said he has spoken to the chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Higher Education and Community College, and he believes the proposal will not be dismissed out of hand.

Hurley said he hopes the Legislature will focus instead on the role higher education plays in making Michigan more economically competitive and boost college funding across the board.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.