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Oakland University makes bold, timely appeal to legislature to fix funding inequities for public university students

icon of a calendarFebruary 19, 2020

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Oakland University makes bold, timely appeal to legislature to fix funding inequities for public university students

In an inspirational appeal to galvanize support for the state’s public university students, Oakland University President Ora Hirsch Pescovitz unveiled “Strive for 45: Invest in Student Success.”   

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We're so fortunate to have such amazing students here at Oakland, and while they are exceptional, we have so many more additional students just like them. So there comes a time in the history of an institution of higher learning when it's time to take a stand. For Oakland University, that moment is now. Today, we begin our campaign, Strive for 45, to draw public attention to the pressing need to better fund higher education, and address the fundamental inequities and negative impact of those inequities on our students, on public universities, and the future prospects for all of us. Today, as Michigan legislators consider the upcoming state budget, we believe that it is essential that the values of Michigan residents be reflected in the States spending and funding priorities. Did you know that Michigan created our first public university 20 years before we were even a state? Higher education has always been, and should always be, a priority for us. But in the past two decades, state support for higher education has declined to the point where higher education spending in Michigan comprises only 4.2 percent of state expenditures. This compares to a 50 state average of 10 percent. Michigan currently ranks 44th in the Nation on per resident spending in higher education. So we must increase funding for higher education. Our Oakland University students are especially impacted by both the lack of state funding and also the inequities in our funding model. As the lowest funded per student university in Michigan, and yet one of the fastest growing of the state's 15 public universities, Oakland University has not received the type of state support that our students deserve. Strive for 45 aims to achieve equity, but without cannibalizing the better funded universities. Setting the floor funding for public university students at $4,500 should not come at the expense, nor diminish, the financial condition of the state's other public universities that also make important contributions to the educational, cultural, and economic development of Michigan. But frankly, the state funding model for higher education in Michigan is broken. It's unfair that one public university receives $9,000 per student, while Oakland University receives $3,000 per student, which is far below the 15 state university average of more than $5,000 per student. Over the years, the funding discrepancies have been growing worse and worse, making the annual state funding allocation more and more unfair. Our campaign, Strive for 45, sends a clarion call for legislators, the governor, and Michigan's business, civic, and philanthropic leadership. We're calling for floor funding of $4,500 per student as the first step in solving the problem of inequity in higher education funding. In addition to Oakland University, there are other institutions who will benefit from an increase in floor funding, including: Grand Valley State University, the University of Michigan-Flint, the University of Michigan-Dearborn, and Saginaw Valley State University. Instead of considering funding to higher education as an expenditure, we need to recognize that higher education is an investment in our students and in our future. An investment that yields dividends as measured by the health of our citizens and the health of our economy. Higher education needs both more funding and a more equitable funding model. Over 25 years ago, the state recognized the need for K through 12 floor funding, and has successfully changed the model to level the playing field by providing more equitable support for K through 12 students throughout the state's school districts. So now is the time to do the very same thing for our universities. It's important to note, that in 1999, the Michigan legislature passed a public act that provided floor funding at $4,500 per student, for public universities. But two decades later, Oakland receives just $3,000 per student, the lowest among the state's public universities. Don't you think it would be reasonable to at least return to the 1999 floor funding 20 years later? In order to truly understand the impact of the state's disinvestment, I want you to do the math. If funding to Oakland students would have been kept at the 1999 level, with only inflationary increases, then today we would receive nearly $7,000 per student in 20, $20 the same as five of our 15 public universities. But instead, the amount of state funding we receive today in real dollars is far below what we received 20 years ago. State disinvestment in higher education comes at a time when there is a growing need for bachelors and graduate degrees. In fact, 36 of the hottest jobs that our students are going to go out and try to get in Michigan require at least a four-year degree. Graduates from Oakland, Grand Valley, U of M-Flint, U of M-Dearborn, and Saginaw Valley, are all contributing to building the Michigan economy. In fact, more than 90 percent of OU graduates who are employed are working in Michigan. Nationally, those who receive a college degree earn more than one million dollars more over the course of their careers compared to non degree holders. The power to establish more equitable funding rests in the hands of policymakers in Lansing. As state legislators determine the future of higher education funding, they must understand that today's students will graduate and enter a tech driven, fast changing world. Unfortunately, too many students will enter their post-college world with burdensome debt. Legislators can make a positive difference in alleviating the student debt by establishing the $4,500 floor funding, which will address immediate needs that directly impact student's success. Presently, Oakland University awards all of its current state funding to students through financial aid and scholarship. Once we receive the funding floor amount of $4,500, we will use these funds to decrease student debt by 10 percent. When we receive the funding floor amount of $4,500, we will use the funding to increase graduation rates by 10 percent. We will use additional state funds to enhance our research, contributing a further $100 million impact on Oakland's already impressive 1 billion dollar economic contribution to our region. The states continued disinvestment in education, and the broken funding model that has been used to determine public universities funding has simply been accepted as the status quo, but Strive for 45 aims to change all of that. The unfair funding level to Oakland University students is an example that demonstrates the great inequity in the current system. Along with Grand Valley, Michigan State, University of Michigan at Ann Arbor and Dearborn, and Michigan Tech, Oakland has had positive enrollment growth for the past 10 years from 2009 until 2019, and yet, during Oakland's two-decade period of steady enrollment growth, revenue from state funding has declined as a percent of the budget from 44-18 percent. While at the same time, revenue from tuition as a percent of budget increased from 54-81 percent. We can't help but wonder, how could it be that a thriving university in the heart of the state's second most populated county, that has an R2 Carnegie designation as a research university, a record of impactful community engagement, and proudly claims that more than 90 percent of its graduates remain in Michigan to build the Michigan economy, receives such inadequate financial support from the state? Can you just imagine what Oakland University will do in addition to reducing student debt and increasing graduation rates when we do receive an equitable amount of state funding? I want you to just imagine, with a fair amount of state funding, Oakland will have an even greater impact on working with our communities to improve the health, education, and economic prosperity of the residents in our region and further contribute to the growth of Michigan's economy. I really wonder what parents of college-aged students, who are living in Oakland and Macomb counties, will tell their legislators when they hear about the many possibilities and the potential of the underfunded university that's in their backyard. Perhaps, it's time that they have that conversation, and while we appeal for the establishment of floor funding and a more equitable funding model, we are well aware that there are no quick fixes to the current static funding model. But at the same time, while there are no quick fixes, the first step toward finding a funding fix can and must begin today. So we've identified a solution that's based on all public universities and legislators working together in a practical way for the benefit of all public university students, and we believe that we can accomplish our goal of achieving equity in state funding by committing to the following. First, implement the $4,500 floor funding, not immediately, but over four years. Second, reach the national average for investment in state public universities for higher education, which is 10 percent of the budget by 2030 and get started now, this year. Clearly, the Strive for 45 campaign is inseparable from a broader public discussion about other pressing state funding needs, including the need to improve funding for health care, public infrastructure, and of course, also K through 12 education. As you go about making up your own mind about funding for Oakland University students and other public universities, I want you to ask yourself, if your values align with the state's budgetary priorities, do we want to be known as a state that's recognized for spending more money on the corrections budget that funds the incarceration of our residents than we spend on educating college students who are tomorrow's leaders and vital to the Michigan economy and our own future prosperity? As a state, we can and must think more innovatively and have a broader and more serious discussion about our priorities, and make sure that those priorities reflect our values. We are optimistic about the odds for our success. From the governor's office, to the Detroit Regional Chamber, to the business leaders of Michigan, there is a great effort going on now in statewide and method focused Detroit to improve the state's post-secondary attainment level from our current rate which is 45.5 percent to 60 percent by 2030. At the heart of achieving this goal is a central role for higher education institutions to be fully engaged in making education more affordable, providing debt forgiveness programs, and finding ways to connect to adult learners, those who are 25 years old and older, who would gain greater financial stability and opportunities with a college degree. In these efforts and more, Oakland University is right at the forefront. In the final analysis, Strive for 45 calls for much needed funding to further support our efforts to make sure we're continuing to do all that we can to help our students succeed in academics, in their careers, and in their lives, from the UP, to Western, mid, and Southeastern Michigan. Michiganders believe ardently that education is a core value and at the heart of Michigan's cultural and economic transformation. Education is a principle that stands on the pillars of reason, fairness, diversity, the pursuit of knowledge, and upon the notion that progress should and must benefit all of us. Among the state's highest priorities must be a public investment in the students that we have that create better prospect for all residents, businesses, small and large, and has the support of the state's core, civic, corporate, and cultural institutions, and that investment must be in higher education. Can you imagine the possibilities if Michigan, the birthplace of the auto industry, the labor movement, and with the legacy of innovation, also became the model of public education? What would that say about who we are and what we value? So Strive for 45 is a decisive step toward properly funding higher education and working to achieve an equitable funding model. Both are essential to making Michigan all that it can be. Thank you very much for being with us here today. Thank you for supporting our initiative and advocating for us, and we also suggest that you spend some time mingling and having a bite to eat. Thanks again.

The campaign aims to achieve greater funding equity for state universities, with additional funds to go directly to reduce student debt and increase graduation rates while making significant inroads to improve accessibility to higher education.

“Instead of considering funding to higher education as an expenditure, we need to recognize that higher education is an investment in our students — an investment that pays dividends as measured by the health of our citizens and the health of our economy,” said President Pescovitz. 

“Higher education needs both more funding and a more equitable funding model,” she said.

In the last two decades, funding discrepancies among the state’s 15 public universities have grown wider, making the annual state funding allocation more and more unfair, said Pescovitz, who noted Oakland is the lowest-funded, yet one of the fastest-growing universities in Michigan. 

“Strive for 45” appeals to legislators, the governor and Michigan’s business, civic and philanthropic leadership to establish a floor funding of $4,500 per student as the first step in addressing a broader inequity in higher education funding.

Currently, Oakland receives $3,069 per student, and is last in state funding. At the top of the list is a state university that receives $9,000 per student. Oakland is also far below the 15-state university average of $5,546 per student.

State support for higher education has declined to the point where spending in Michigan comprises only 4 percent of state expenditures, compared to a 50-state average of 10 percent, which ranks Michigan 44th, according to the National Association of State Budget Officers report from fiscal years 2017-2019.

In addition to Oakland University, other institutions to benefit from an increase in floor funding include Grand Valley State University, University of Michigan-Flint, University of Michigan-Dearborn, and Saginaw Valley State University, all of which currently receive less than $4,500 per student.

Setting the floor funding at $4,500, said President Pescovitz, should not come at the expense, nor diminish the financial condition of the state’s other public universities that make important contributions to the educational, cultural and economic development of Michigan.

There is historical precedence for a funding floor in education. In 1999, the state legislature established a funding floor of $4,500 for state universities. Also in the 1990s, the state recognized the need for K-12 floor funding, and over time, has changed the model to level the playing field by providing more equitable support for K-12 students throughout the state’s school districts. 

In addition to addressing student debt, additional monies from raising the funding floor would be used to increase need-based financial aid and scholarships, add faculty and adviser positions and improve the student-to-faculty ratio, upgrade classrooms, and increase student employment and research initiatives.

During his State of the County address, Oakland County Executive Dave Coulter announced the higher educational initiative, “Oakland 80.” As the largest state university and transfer destination in the region, Coulter noted Oakland will be playing a major role in achieving the goal of having 80 percent of adults in Oakland County with a post-secondary degree by 2030.

For more information, please visit “Strive for 45.”

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