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House committee proposes 4.1 percent WMU increase

May 4, 2006

LANSING, Mich.--Western Michigan University President Judith I. Bailey knew she was speaking to a supportive audience May 3 when she began her testimony before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Higher Education. The panel has recommended WMU receive a 4.1 percent funding increase for the 2006-07 academic year.

The group led by Rep. John Stewart of Plymouth, Mich., had earlier announced its intention to recommend an overall 2.5 percent increase for higher education. The committee's proposed funding formula includes a recommendation that WMU receive a 4.1 percent appropriation increase for 2006-07, which would mean an additional $4.5 million in support from the state. That recommendation is the largest percentage increase recommended for any of the four public universities whose presidents testified together in Lansing May 3. The University of Michigan and Michigan State University were slated for 3.5 and 3.6 percent, respectively, while the committee recommended a 1.9 decrease for Wayne State University.

The House Appropriations Committee and the full House still need to approve the subcommittee's plan before the House and Senate begin to work out the differences in their budget recommendations.

In response to Stewart's question about what she hoped to accomplish with her testimony to the committee, Bailey said she wanted the legislature to understand the "strengths and opportunities of the different universities testifying that day."

She noted that it is rare to testify before a committee that has already passed a higher education budget and praised the panel for what she called "fair and representative of the individual goals of the 15 public universities." She also thanked the group for recommending WMU receive an additional $1.68 million outlay to offset the University's contributions to the Michigan Public School Employees Retirement System. WMU is one of seven Michigan universities with current and retired employees who are part of that system. Although MPSERS has not been offered to new enrollees for many years, WMU has the largest legacy costs in that system of any Michigan university.

Bailey's testimony pointed to WMU's role in helping advance Michigan into the new economy. She specifically noted the University's growing reputation in translating basic research into commercial enterprise through the Biosciences Research and Commercialization Center.

"While we all recognize that basic research is the foundation of innovation, we must also recognize that commercialization is the foundation for our new economy," Bailey told the committee.

Her testimony also covered such new developments as the acquisition of Pfizer's Building 126, the success of the Business Technology and Research Park, research in the geosciences, the University's partnerships with the Kalamazoo Public Schools and WMU's international education initiatives.

The presidents of the other three universities testifying during the hearing was coordinated to focus on their institutions' value to the state and their need for a different funding formula, as proposed by Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm. Following their presentation Bailey responded to a question from the panel about how she viewed the proposal.

"I have severe reservations about the message that this proposal ultimately sends to Michigan citizens," Bailey said. "WMU's 'high research' designation in the Carnegie classification also translates into a different cost structure. That raises the question of whether universities should be grouped and funded based on their Carnegies research classifications or on a common set of outcome criteria important to the state."

Media contact: Cheryl Roland, (269) 387-8400, cheryl.roland@wmich.edu

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