Eastern Michigan University President Susan Martin sounded themes of tuition restraint and fiscal responsibility and drew on her own life story and that of an EMU student March 16 in her annual testimony before Michigan lawmakers in Lansing.
Martin made an impassioned plea against the proposed cuts in state funding during her separate appearances before the house and senate appropriations subcommittees on higher education.
"Please do not cut public university funding by 21 percent," Martin said of Governor Rick Snyder's budget proposal. "Recognize the desperate need of our students for continued support to enable them to earn a college degree and not give up hope on a pathway to success."
In her morning testimony before the house committee, Martin introduced Marcus Coleman, an EMU student from Holland, in State Rep. Joe Haveman's district. Coleman, a graphic design major, is also a member of EMU's award-winning forensics team, which is ranked sixth nationally. Coleman spoke of why he came to Eastern and what he found when he got there.
Coleman said he attends EMU thanks to scholarship support and financial aid. He expressed his gratitude for EMU administrators and faculty working with him over the years to identify financial aid opportunities.
Coleman said he hopes that the state will properly support higher education to ensure that Michigan residents such as him can attend college and realize their dreams.
Martin recalled her childhood in front of both groups, drawing on memories of growing up on a dairy farm in the Thumb and becoming a first-generation college student.
She took a test in high school and scored well, earning a scholarship that paid her tuition and fees at Central Michigan University. She emerged from college very grateful, and only $1,000 in debt.
"Today I am the president of Eastern Michigan University," she told the lawmakers. "But with the proposed state budget, if I were standing in those same shoes today, my parents and I would be completely bewildered and frightened by the cost. Michigan taxpayers deserve the opportunity to earn a degree so they can live in the state they love, raise a family, own a home, and not be burdened with a large debt for college tuition. I had that opportunity. Did any of you?"
Martin's testimony touched on a variety of other points, including:
* Tuition restraint: "During this challenging economic environment in Michigan, Eastern has sought to do its part," she said. "For two years in a row, Eastern has led the state's 15 public universities in tuition restraint … And yet we are still reinvesting $195 million in capital improvements on campus in learning and living centers, including 75 percent in academic space. The year before, we held our increase to the Consumer Price Index of 3.8 percent, also the lowest percentage increase in the state. And Eastern has the lowest tuition increase over the last five years. We now stand third lowest in freshman tuition among the state's public institutions. These dramatic measures provided some difficult and extraordinary budgetary challenges. Yet the Board of Regents and I believe that taking such action was the right thing at the right time for students and their families."
* The effects of Gov. Snyder's budget proposal: "Eastern understands shared sacrifice and is prepared to work hard to deal with a cut in our funding, but we were extremely disappointed to find that we were cut 19.3 percent. At Eastern, the governor's proposal would mean a $14.7 million cut to our operating budget. This will have a dramatic impact on the 23,500 students who attend Eastern -- the vast majority of whom are from Michigan … Even if Eastern and other universities limit tuition increases next year to a fixed amount, the Governor's budget would still slash $11.4 million from Eastern's budget, and $213 million from the entire state public university budget... It is a very, very harsh message, a disinvestment in a crown jewel asset of the state of Michigan that my parents paid taxes to invest in, but is now being cast aside, as are those unfortunate State taxpayers who would like to attend but can no longer afford it." Martin said Michigan's 15 public universities are all different, and that EMU does not support an across-the-board funding formula for all 15 universities. "Each university should be held accountable based on metrics and measures that uniquely reflect its role in advancing this great state of Michigan," she said.
* EMU responds to economic challenge: Martin noted that some might argue that the Governor's proposed cuts to public universities will force universities to trim the fat. "But Eastern has been cutting costs for years," she said. "Eastern's low tuition, room and board rates are largely the result of management's focus on cost savings and efficiencies."
Her examples included:
* EMU has reduced its staffing levels by 140 people since 2004.
* 75 percent of EMU's employees are effectively paying 20 percent of the cost of their health insurance; remaining employees are to be moved into this 80/20 plan when their union contracts are re-negotiated.
* EMU has reduced energy costs by almost $2 million a year.
* EMU has in place a 90-day freeze on replacing vacant positions.
* In 2009, EMU instituted an 18-month pay freeze for the top 100 highest compensated administrators.
Martin said Eastern remains highly conscious about working with other complementary institutions around the state, including more than 100 articulation agreements with community colleges that provide 84 to 92 credits toward an Eastern degree.
"Notably, we have a program to train nurses at Jackson Community College, a partnership that illustrates the ideal way to allocate resources and work with community colleges," she told the lawmakers. "We see no need to institute four-year degree programs at community colleges."
For full copies of President Martin's testimony, visit www.emich.edu/president/communications/031611house.php.
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