June 14, 2005 Bookmark and Share

NMU funding explained funding

MARQUETTE - Most Upper Peninsula residents know that Northern Michigan University is facing a tough budget battle in Lansing with lawmakers, but they may not know the whole story. NMU President Les Wong addressed those issues as well as debunked some myths about the budget situation at a community forum Monday held in the Charcoal Room at the university center at NMU. "All of us were quite shocked several weeks ago when the House proposal was released. A 31 percent cut over six years can literally take your breath away," Wong said. The House plan proposes to cut Northern's budget by 31 percent over the next six years. Another budget plan in the Senate calls for a 10 percent cut for one year. Of Michigan's 15 universities, only Northern and Wayne State University are slated for budget cuts. Some people believe the cuts are payback for the actions of one man: Dominic Jacobetti. The perception is that Jacobetti, who served as a Democrat in the Michigan House from 1954 to 1994, "played favorites" and rewarded NMU and Wayne State with more appropriations than the other 13 universities. "Over the last year, I have been hearing a lot about Mr. Jacobetti," Wong said. "I've asked my staff to get the numbers. There is the perception of what someone does, and there are the facts of what someone does." Wong's staff gathered the general fund appropriation history for all 15 universities from 1977 to 2005. They found the average appropriation increase over those years to be 215 percent, and Northern's appropriation increase was 204 percent, below the average. "There is no data that shows any kind of favoritism (toward NMU)," Wong said. Where NMU does have a problem is in its per-student spending. In another study of the 15 universities from 1977 to 2005, Northern's spending per student went up about 204 percent, while the average was only 169 percent. Wong explained that when student population on any given campus goes down, the money spent per student goes up, and vice versa. The system is meant to create a balance between student population and appropriations awarded to all the universities in Michigan. So consequently, when the K.I. Sawyer Air Force base shut down, Northern's spending per student shot way up. "We lost over a thousand students literally overnight. Since that time, our growth has slowly been bringing (spending per student) down," said Wong. Wong said that the real problem is that Michigan has not sufficiently funded growth. From 1996 to 2004, student population of the 15 universities has grown by 21 percent, yet appropriations have only risen 11 percent, he said. The president also took issue with several parts of the formula the House used to determine funding in its higher education budget proposal. Most notably, the House plan calls for out-of-state students to be funded by 75 percent while in-state students get the full 100 percent. Because of Northern's geographic location, it is forced to recruit heavily from Wisconsin, Minnesota and Illinois in addition to both Michigan peninsulas. Northern is the second highest university in the state in terms of percentage of out-of-state students at around 12 to 14 percent. "Michigan spends millions of dollars to recruit out-of-state business to come to Michigan. It strikes me odd that we would not want out-of-state students to spend their money in Michigan," Wong said. "We know that for many students, Northern was their only choice of going to school in Michigan." Wong argued that penalizing Northern doesn't make financial sense. "In an economic study, (Northern's) effect in terms of the economy of the U.P. is about $287 million. The $50 million the state gives us, we turn into $287 million in the economy. That's a return of over 500 percent," Wong said. The university has prepared several different models to deal with budget cuts from 1 to 5 percent. University officials are now preparing a model with cuts up to 10 percent. Northern has assumed no growth in its model numbers, and there is no tuition restraint language. That may mean higher tuition rates for NMU students. "It's not a good thing for a president to talk about double digit tuition increases. Our motto has been 'accessibility, financial aid, help students succeed.' And right now both the House and the Senate (proposals) force us off that very successful model," the president said. NMU News Director Kristi Evans said that while there are no definite budget outlines for the upcoming school year, several different financial models are being worked on. Despite any budget shortfalls, Wong said not to be surprised if new buildings are constructed on campus. "The public needs to know that capital construction money is in a whole different pot than appropriation money. They are two different processes," he said. Wong stressed that the public needs to get its voice heard in Lansing, to both sides of the aisle. "Let's work together and fix the problem. Let's throw our abilities and our talents at that," Wong said. "Let's not allow the U.P. and NMU to take disproportionate cuts. Why are they asking us to take a bigger share of the burden?"
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