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Dunn cites state's disinvestment in higher education

May 4, 2010

KALAMAZOO--The cost of tuition at Western Michigan University would be about 38 percent lower today if the state had maintained its commitment to funding higher education WMU President John M. Dunn pointed out during testimony May 3 in front of the Michigan Higher Education House Appropriations Subcommittee.

View complete hearing (Microsoft Silverlight required)
Michigan higher ed subcommittee hearing

Dunn noted that since 1980, a generational shift has occurred and the consequences to students are significant. In 1980, he said, the state supplied 70 percent of the University's funding. Students who worked full time during the summers and part time during the academic year could cover the cost of tuition and fees and still have money left for incidentals. In 2010, he said, with the state covering only 33 percent of the cost, it is no longer possible for students to work and cover their tuition, given current tuition and minimum wage rates.

"There are consequences for our students," Dunn said. "The numbers are working against them."

Dunn noted the dramatic decrease in state financial aid to WMU students, which plummeted this year from $5.7 million to $843,000 with the loss of the Michigan Promise and other scholarships. He said he is often questioned by people about why the state is still funneling financial aid into private institutions.

"Why are we doing that when we have walked away from our public institutions?" he asked.

In wide-ranging testimony during the hearing that was held at Northern Michigan University, Dunn affirmed that:

  • WMU continues to be the state's best buy among its research universities, but the University will see a tuition increase this fall.

  • He's committed to phasing out a one-time $300 records initiation fee paid by incoming students that has been in place since 2004.

  • The University is exploring the idea of differential tuition, but is looking at a model that would wrap fees into the new tuition structure.

Dunn also asked the panel to use existing state capital outlay funds to help WMU construct a new Sangren Hall. Construction on a replacement for the campus's most heavily used classroom facility is slated to begin this summer. The state has provided $11.7 million--enough for only the first phase of work that has been identified as a high-priority campus need for some 20 years.

"We need help with Sangren funding," he said. "…My board has already said, 'We cannot wait. We've waited 20 years. We can't wait any longer.' So we're going to do it, and if we do it and we have to bond ourselves--and indebt ourselves--we all know what happens. It's going to translate to another 3 percent in tuition adjustment to our students to carry that."

Dunn closed with a request that the House do what it can to counter a Senate higher education budget that calls for a 3.1 percent decrease in appropriation to all of the state's public universities.

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

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