Friday, November 20, 2009

California Tuition Hike Should Serve as a Warning to Michigan College Students

Seeing as how Michigan has been lumped in with California as one of the ten states that face "looming budget disasters" in the next year, we probably should keep an eye on what is happening out there - and it ain't pretty. After $60 billion in severe cuts, stimulus spending, and tax increases, the state still faces a huge deficit... and now they are coming after the universities.
As the University of California’s Board of Regents met Thursday at U.C.L.A. and approved a plan to raise undergraduate fees — the equivalent of tuition — 32 percent next fall, hundreds of students from campuses across the state demonstrated outside, beating drums and chanting slogans against the increase.


Mark Yudof, the university president, said the state budget cuts had left the university no choice but to raise fees, and noted that the system received only half as much, per student, from the state as it did in 1990.

If Michigan lawmakers don't find the courage to fill the estimated $1.6B dollar hole in our next budget, our universities could be next. Our current budget may have scrapped scholarship money, but keep in mind it only cut the aid to universities by 0.4 percent. After the draconian cuts to K-12, revenue sharing, and just about everything else in this last budget, does anyone think that the money to universities will be untouched the next time around? Probably not. If Bishop sticks with his predictable "no" on revenue, once again deep cuts will have to be made, and there isn't anywhere left to turn. Just like California.

Governor Granholm has been hitting our college campuses this week, asking for student support in urging our legislature to restore the Promise Scholarship. While some people are upset that she didn't veto this last higher-ed budget, they aren't taking into consideration the political conditions that exist now, and the budget tidal wave that is coming next. The governor's answer to the veto question has been that she didn't want to shut-down the universities. Understandable, but a bit too simplistic. It leaves out some other moving parts of the equation, things she probably can't say, and still be considered a good Democratic team player. She's coming close though. The focus is on Mike Bishop and the Senate Republicans, as it should be because they are the main obstacle, but don't forget the House and their role in this matter.

"You hired these state representatives and senators," she told the crowd. "If you hire someone, you are the employer and you should be able to tell them what they need to do. And if they don't, they can be fired. So they need to hear from you."

Representatives. The House leadership seemed more inclined to serve Mike Bishop rather than take on the fight, throwing out some standard cliches here and there after the budgets were signed, but never really put any heart or action behind their words. Passing an unfunded measure to restore the Promise was as far as they would go, taking credit when nothing has really been accomplished. Then they left for vacation. Whether they are too afraid of voting for revenue, or Dillon and Co. are simply positioning themselves to "destroy the village in order to save it" in next year's campaign, it's hard to tell. Bottom line is, they aren't fighting now, and she couldn't count on them for support. Take all that, and add in the reports that our revenue picture continues to slide, creating yet another monster hole in our immediate future, would it have been wise to throw that veto down now?

Or, do you position yourself for the battle to come? The best bet is to go right to the people, school boards and students alike, and explain what is going on. Not only should the governor get points for bravery in facing all these angry people (and she has run into some very angry people between K-12 meetings, and now college meetings as well), explaining a vision and asking for support sets the stage - not only to restore these scholarships, but perhaps for some things left unsaid about the coming year. That is all just speculation on my part, but very plausible when you look at the overall picture.

At Western Michigan University, Gov. Granholm jokingly calls out Rep. Larry DeShazor, yet another House freshman that aspires to be a future Senate Republican - and it worked. Check out his standard Republican non-answer to the problem.

Afterward, DeShazor said the scholarship was a promise made that could not be kept and that the state government needs to find solutions to its revenue problems before cutting more checks.

“We have to figure out how to stop the accelerating loss in revenues,” he said.

Duh. Although it was nice to see him take tax cuts off the table, isn't it? More tax cuts surely would "accelerate the loss in revenues", and we can't have that. Right?

Pounce, kids!

Several students took a cue from Granholm and asked DeShazor about his stance on the Promise scholarship after the event. Other students said they planned to pressure their home-town senators and Sen. Tom George, R-Texas Township, who voted to cut scholarship funding.

Watch the whole speech below. The governor is hitting as many colleges as she can before Thanksgiving break; hope this message sinks in, and some discussions are held over the dinner tables in this next week. Students need to take this message to their parents as well, and enlist them in the fight for scholarships - for their 2010 votes are in play here, too.

Will our lawmakers take the California route next year? Not if the pressure is applied now. Keep calling, keep writing your lawmakers. Ask them what their plans are. And if they give you another non-answer, tuck that away for future reference, and remember to vote accordingly.