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Dunn decries injustice of university funding formula

Feb. 28, 2008

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich.--A funding formula for state higher education proposed by Gov. Jennifer Granholm got a cool reception from Dr. John M. Dunn, president of Western Michigan University, and the presidents of three other state universities at a senate hearing Feb. 25.

Speaking before members of the Senate Higher Education Subcommittee at Grand Valley State University, Dunn said the 3 percent increase in funding for higher education in the governor's budget, after several years of cuts, "is an important first step in restoring funding cuts to higher education."

But there's a long way to go, Dunn added, particularly as regards the funding formula. WMU is moving forward with new, exciting initiatives, despite receiving $13 million less today from the state than six years ago, unadjusted for inflation, and still managed to keep last year's tuition increase to 5.7 percent, the lowest among the state's public universities. But the governor's proposed formula is worrisome, Dunn said.

"The governor's formula is badly flawed," Dunn told senators. "It is not fair."

For example, Dunn said, WMU produces nearly the same number of graduates in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields as Wayne State University. Graduates in STEM fields have been singled out as being particularly vital to the state's future. Yet, under the governor's formula, Wayne State would receive $1.70 for every dollar given to WMU.

Another example Dunn cited involves students eligible for Pell grants. Funding for Pell-eligible students is badly skewed in favor of the state's "big three" universities--the University of Michigan, Michigan State University and Wayne State. The "big three" serve 16,800 Pell-eligible students and would get $6.2 million, while Michigan's other 12 public universities serve 34,000 such students would receive only 6.5 million. In other words, the big three would get nearly as much money for serving less than half the number of students. In the formula, U of M, which serves the smallest proportion of students with Pell Grants, would get $321 for each Pell Grant family served, while WMU would get just $95 for serving the same family.

"That passes no test, period," Dunn said. "There's something wrong with that."

WMU is one of Michigan's five research universities, as classified by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, yet its tuition rate ranks 11th or 12th in the state, Dunn said. However, the governor's formula rewards the institutions that are already the most expensive.

A WMU degree is an outstanding value, Dunn added.

"There is not a better buy for a research university in the United States than Western Michigan University, right here in our home state," Dunn said.

Dunn's comments about inequities in the funding formula were echoed by presidents from other universities who testified before the subcommittee. They included Dr. Thomas J. Haas, Grand Valley State University; Dr. Leslie E. Wong, Northern Michigan University; and Dr. David L. Eisler, Ferris State University.

Media contact: Mark Schwerin, (269) 387-8400, mark.schwerin@wmich.edu

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