Originally published Oct. 23, 2011

Grand Valley State University now has more lawmakers on its side in the fight to increase the university’s public funding, which was cut by 22 percent in the last state-wide budget settlement.

Although Rep. Amanda Price (R—Park Township) voted in favor of the cuts, Rep. Roy Schmidt (D—Grand Rapids) voted against them.

Price was unavailable for comment, but Ed Kettle, Schmidt’s senior legislative aide, said Schmidt agrees with GVSU officials that the university needs more funding.

Early in his term, Schmidt invited the entire Democratic caucus to come to Grand Rapids for a retreat.

“We had the opportunity for people of Grand Valley to come and speak to our group [so other representatives could hear] that Grand Valley’s one of the most high-achieving academic institutions in the state with the least amount of funding,” Kettle said.

However, Schmidt and other Democratic representatives are having a difficult time accomplishing their goals in the House.

“We’re not in the majority,” Kettle said. “Even though Roy [Schmidt] might come up with a very good bill for Grand Valley, it probably won’t go anywhere because he’s a Democrat. There’s very little we can do.”

GVSU is always very high on the agenda for the Kent Caucus, which assembles the many West Michigan representatives to discuss their main focuses for each year, Kettle said.

Matt McLogan, vice president of university relations, and GVSU President Thomas J. Haas have fought to make sure that GVSU remains a priority. Both have testified before the state legislature and meet often with the West Michigan representatives to appeal for more appropriations.

“I’ve discussed with every representative in West Michigan our long-held concern thatGVSU students are not being treated fairly in state funding,” McLogan said. “We take great pains every year to make sure they understand what the funding is that we’ve received and how it counts per student, and we always give them a copy of the president’s accountability report.”

The report, prepared by the president each year, compares GVSU’s growth, level of academic achievement and government funding with those of other state schools.

GVSU consistently ranks in the top four for academic achievement among Michigan State University, Michigan Technological University and the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor. It had the sixth-largest student body population in the state last year and the third-largest undergraduate headcount. However, state appropriations per student have remained well below that of all other state universities.

“The reason for this is not because the legislature necessarily believes we deserve less, but rather because GVSU grew at a time when the state simply didn’t have money to fund additional student enrollment,” McLogan said.

GVSU’s 10-year percent change in enrollment, from Fall 2000 to Fall 2010, was an increase of 53.9 percent, the highest in the state by more than 10 percent.

Kettle posited another reason for the lack of funding.

“Grand Valley has put the brakes on themselves because they don’t want to move to the next level,” he said. “If they moved to a doctorate university and a research university, it will bring them to the new level. If Grand Valley decides to go to that area, that would naturally put them on a higher level on the food chain of funding.”

Regardless of the reason for the funding discrepancy, the GVSU Student Senate will initiate a letter-writing campaign and appeal to the representatives in Lansing for more higher education funding later this year.

“Grand Valley deserves much more funding than we receive,” said Trevor Tenbrink, vice president of political affairs for the Student Senate. “The Student Senate, more specifically the Political Affairs Committee, has made it a priority to work on informing the state government of the needs that are crucial to GVSU.”

Tenbrink has testified before the House and Senate subcommittees that deal with higher education funding.

He and the Student Senate are currently trying to organize a political forum at GVSU so that all students can interact with their state representatives.

“I know for a fact that the representatives recognize the work that we are doing here at GV,” Tenbrink said. “We have proven to them that, as students, we care about our university and care about our state, and that we are going to do whatever it takes so that we as students do not continue to get short-changed by the state government.”

Meanwhile, McLogan said the university has hope for more funding appropriations in the next budget.

“For next year, there has been discussion between both the governor and the House of Representatives that they want to see if there is a funding model for the universities that might be more driven by formula than it presently is,” he said.

At this time, the budget for higher education does not rely on any set formula, but Kettle said students really need to voice their concerns and vote if a difference is to be made.

Tenbrink agreed.

“We can have lobbyists, presidents, and board members all try to prove why we deserve more respect, but the loudest voice will come from the students,” he said. “I encourage all GV students to speak up and fight for the funding and for the appreciation that this university has rightfully earned.”

Students can contact their home representatives to discuss their concerns or call Schmidt at 517-373-0822. Students can reach Price at 517-373-0838.


Original publication: http://www.lanthorn.com/article/2011/10/the_fight_for_funding