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    Michigan State University President Lou Anna K. Simon pointed legislators to an alternative higher education funding metric in an effort to adapt the assessment tools Gov. Rick Snyder advocated in his fiscal year 2013 budget proposal.

    In her testimony before the House of Representatives Higher Education Appropriations subcommittee March 21, she urged lawmakers to consider a proposal by the Business Leaders of Michigan, or BLM, a nonprofit group of state business and university executives. .

    The group already testified before a Senate subcommittee, laying out six improvements to Snyder's higher education funding formula:
    • Benchmark Michigan's universities against schools from across the country, rather than against one another;
    • Reward schools for their overall level of achievement, not only progress;
    • Further incentivize graduation and retention rates;
    • Adding a weighting mechanism for completed advanced degrees;
    • Incentivize broader economic output such as total research and development expenditures;
    • Avoid driving down quality by finding a different method to address affordability than an across-the-board tuition cap.

    Simon urged legislators to the consider BLM's approach.

    "They focus on what the business community has identified as the four key pillars of excellence, accessibility, affordability and economic impact," she said.

    University of Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman also advocated this approach in her testimony before the House subcommittee in her testimony March 14. She echoed the group's preference for rewarding achievement rather than just progress, asserting U-M's six-year graduation rate already stands at 90 percent.

    "The (governor's) proposal does not take into account the ceiling effect experienced by the most successful institutions," Coleman said. "At U-M it would be very difficult to significantly increase the number of degrees granted."

    The BLM does not define exactly how their metrics would work or how much money each university would stand to receive, but research universities like U-M and MSU likely would benefit from a mechanism that incentivizes research output. Weighting completions in advanced degrees also would tip the scales to benefit certain large schools like U-M and MSU.

    Michigan's third research university, Wayne State, will testify March 28.

    Simon said the number of U.S. jobs requiring advanced degrees is expected to grow by 2.5 million by 2018, justifying increased funding for schools that educate more graduate students.

    "The world knowledge economy is demanding more preparation, not less," she said.

    In the groups' Senate testimony, BLM CEO and President Doug Rothwell emphasized the first component of the formula. U-M and Lake Superior State have different missions and different students, he said, so comparing them to one another is not as constructive as comparing them to nationwide schools with similar missions and similar students.

    "At BLM, we are constantly measuring Michigan's GDP, job growth, and personal income growth against the states and regions around the globe with which we most often compete," he said. "It makes sense to do the same when judging our universities."

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    The Michigan Policy Network is a student-led public education and research program to report and organize news and information about the political process surrounding Michigan state policy issues. It is run out of the Department of Political Science at Michigan State University, with participation by students from the College of Social Science, the College of Communication, and James Madison College. 

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    Meet your Policy Fellow: Evan Martinak

    Evan Martinak is state budget policy fellow for the Michigan Policy Network. Evan is from Walled Lake, Michigan on the east side. He is a student in James Madison College, pursuing a major in international relations and also doubling it with an economics major. He intends to pursue a minor in Philosophy of Law. He is highly involved in student government at MSU. He is a member of ASMSU (The Associated Student of Michigan State University) as well as James Madison College Student Senate. He is also an avid Manchester United fan.