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President Wilson pens column on Michigan's college funding formula

February 17, 2016

Wayne State University President M. Roy Wilson wrote a guest column about Michigan’s funding formula for its public universities. “We were pleased to see that the governor’s fiscal year 2017 budget proposal includes reinvestment in higher education. This is good news for Michigan, and the proposal is described as fulfillment of the governor’s commitment to restore funding to prior levels before its massive cut in 2011. However, the proposal will not restore all universities to pre-2011 levels.

Wayne State, in particular, remains at 7.5 percent, or $16.6 million below its 2011 budget level, and for the fifth year in a row will receive the lowest percentage increase of all of Michigan’s universities. How can that be? Half of the increase in new funding to the universities will be through what is known as “performance metrics” and Michigan’s current metrics model disadvantages Wayne State. Metrics models used by states across the nation range from fairly rudimentary to highly sophisticated.

The best consider the unique missions of the various universities, and ensure that the final allocation is fair and reasonable, passing the commonsense test while taking into account the workforce and knowledge needs of the state. Michigan’s performance metrics model can be improved to better align it with the state’s workforce needs and economic development. First, the value of research should be given more than only 5 percent weight in the metrics. Second, graduate degrees are not included in the “critical degrees” metric, yet they are certainly critical to Michigan’s success. Third, the model should incorporate instructional costs as a percent of expenditures, rather than an overall administrative cost, since this is most relevant to the student experience. Most importantly, each university’s performance should be evaluated in relation to the other Michigan public universities as well as in comparison to its own historical performance.”