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Gop Lawmakers Move To Strip Millions From Msu, Wsu


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GOP lawmakers move to strip millions from MSU, WSU

 

http://www.freep.com/article/20110921/NEWS06/110921020/GOP-lawmakers-move-strip-millions-from-MSU-WSU?odyssey=mod|mostview

 

Upset by what they believe is an exploitation of a legal loophole, a quartet of state House Republicans wants to strip millions in state aid from Michigan State and Wayne State universities.

 

Last week, four Republican members of the state House’s appropriation’s higher education subcommittee introduced a bill that would take back incentive money universities were awarded for keeping tuition increases below 7.1 %.

 

It could cost MSU $18.3 million and WSU $12.8 million.

 

At issue is the calendar definition of the academic year and the exact percentage the schools raised tuition for the current year.

 

State lawmakers included a provision in this year’s budget that gave universities millions extra as long as tuition increases stayed under 7.1%.

 

MSU and WSU raised tuition in the summer 2011 session, which the schools counted as part of last school year. Republican lawmakers, however, say the summer is part of the new academic year and that percentage increases should be calculated from one fall semester to the next.

 

Calculated that way, MSU raised tuition more than 9% and WSU more than 8%, violating the cap and putting millions at risk.

 

State universities are free under the Michigan Constitution to set tuition rates however they please. But the Legislature controls state funding and can place conditions on that aid.

 

State budget director John Nixon ruled in August for the universities, saying they “technically” met the law because there was no hard-and-fast definition in state law of what constitutes the academic year.

 

That didn’t mollify some lawmakers, who spent the summer stewing.

 

“We said all along that we felt they violated the law,” said state Rep. Bob Genetski, R-Saugatuck, the chairman of the House appropriations higher education subcommittee. “Most parents and students are looking at their bills this fall and seeing that it’s up more than 7%. We said we would do this.”

 

The bill will be passed out of the subcommittee and sent to the appropriations committee, he said. Genetski also said he has not yet begun to lobby other lawmakers for support. He said the committee is open to working with universities on the issue, but didn’t elaborate.

 

As it stands now, the bill would strip the extra money and doesn’t include an out clause for universities.

 

MSU is scheduled to get $241.1 million this year in state aid, including the tuition rate incentive. WSU is scheduled to get $182 million.

 

MSU said the bill is another attempt to take more money away from higher education.

 

“This type of bill further exacerbates disinvestment by the state,” said spokesman Kent Cassella, noting the state budget for this year cut 15% of state funding already.

 

WSU said much the same. Spokesman Matt Lockwood said the university has tried to hold down the cost of tuition and needed the increase to balance its budget already hurting from big cuts to state aid.

 

“Further cuts in state support, as proposed in this bill, would increase the difficulty of maintaining the quality of our teaching and research,” Lockwood said. “Wayne State cooperated in earlier inquiries into our tuition increase, including attending a hearing before the House Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee in August. The Governor’s state budget director affirmed that the University’s tuition adjustment was in compliance with state law.

 

MSU student Maurice Small, a junior from Detroit, said he has mixed feelings about lawmakers going after the money.

 

“So if they cut more, will (MSU) have to raise tuition more to make up the money? I wouldn’t like that. (But) I also think MSU was a little sneaky in raising tuition like this,” he said. “I didn’t take any classes this summer and neither did most of my friends, so we did get a bigger increase than what (MSU) was supposed to do.”

 

The subcommittee held hearings this summer to allow MSU and WSU to explain their increases. They failed to sway the Republican lawmakers.

 

“If we let them do this, we are setting a double standard,” Genetski said.

 

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

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