Michigan State and Wayne State universities could lose more state funding over tuition increase

By David Jesse

Detroit Free Press


July 21–When Michigan State University students return this fall, they will be paying 9.4% more in tuition than they did last fall.

On the surface that appears to put MSU in violation of a provision in the latest state budget, which put a cap on universities for raising tuition at 7.1%, to keep from losing additional funding.

If they are found by the state budget director to be in violation, MSU would lose an additional $18 million in state aid.

Wayne State University is also in the same situation and under scrutiny by state fiscal officials. The House fiscal agency report shows WSU’s fall to fall increase is really 8.4%. WSU did not attend the hearing this morning.

MSU officials don’t think they’re in violation. They say 2.4% of that increase came in the current summer semester, which means tuition is only increasing 6.9% from academic year to academic year.

That argument didn’t win many friends among state lawmakers during a legislative committee hearing Thursday morning about the issue.

“I think, in my personal opinion, this is a cute play on the definition of the academic year to get a bigger tuition increase,” said state Rep. Kevin Cotter, R-Mount Pleasant.

Not so, said Mark Haas, MSU’s chief financial officer. “We’re not trying to be cute. We’re not playing games. We believe we did the right thing, both by the law and the students.”

The issue goes back a few years, Haas said.

In June 2009, the MSU board approved a 5.2% increase for 2009-10 school year and a 4.9% for the 2010-11 school year, Haas said. Then, in June 2010, the board suspended 2.4% of the 2010-11 school year increase. In June of this year, they approved a 6.9% increase for the 2011-12 school year. Also this year, the board reinstated the 2.4% increase they previously suspended for the summer semester.

The non-partisan House Fiscal Agency published a report looking at the tuition increase. It based its report on how much students paid at the start of each fall semester.

Using that starting date, MSU students paid slightly more than $11,200 in 2009-10. At the start of the fall semester for 2010-11 school year, students paid slightly more than $11,900. At the start of the fall semester 2011-12, students will pay $12,768.

But MSU officials argue that’s not a fair measure of tuition rates. They say the summer semester counts in the academic year, so the fair comparison of tuition rate increases is to compare the summer semester rates to the fall rates. That would only by a 6.9% increase, within the 7.1% increase cap.

Rep. Bob Genetski, R-Saugatuck, the chair of the state House appropriations higher education subcommittee, asked MSU students who testified if they considered the summer semester as part of their academic year.

MSU student Mike Arthur said, no. He testified that “allowing MSU figures sets a double standard” for other universities who calculated differently.

Other students testified that taking this additional money away from MSU would further hurt students as MSU would have to make more cuts to find the money.

The decision on whether MSU and WSU will lose further state aid funding will be made by state budget director John Nixon in the next month or so.

Contact David Jesse: 313-222-8851 or djesse@freepress.com


Posted by Tribune News Services

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